“A Playful Mind”

Dr. Jaak Panksepp and Sheri Six of Washington University suggest that free play, which includes rough-and-tumble activities, running, jumping, and play fighting, are increasing recognized as essential components of a child’s development. Both human and animal studies have provided evidence that periods of play improve social skills, impulse inhibition and attention and result in specific neurochemical and dendritic changes in many neurons, especially in those brain areas in which ADHA children are deficient.         Therefore, long term provision of more opportunities for physical play may be an effective, non-medicinal therapy for reducing some of the disruptive behaviors of ADHA and facilitating brain development in children diagnosed with ADHA, according to the article. Humans are born ready in take in sensory information, to learn and to grow, brains do not come fully encoded and knowledgeable of the variety of experiences in which a person may encounter throughout his or her life. Much of the higher brain is considered empty and is programmed by epigenetic effects that modulated by subcortical brain regions. Our brains contain at least seven primary-process emotional systems. These systems compel us to explore, care for our young, and drive us to play, especially the young, according to Panksepp and Six. The details of the play circuitry are not fully known but lesions to the parafascicular complex and posterior dorsomedial thalamic nuclei reduce play behaviors in rats, strongly suggesting that the areas make up part of the play circuit. Other brain areas that may be involved include the cerebellum, basal ganglia, and various hypothalamic areas but many of these areas are also involved in movement or aggression, both of which could affect one’s desire or ability to play, according to the article. Panksepp and Six explain that taken together, the evidence supports the assertion that play is one of the primary-process brain circuits, devised through evolution, that promote instinctual feelings and behaviors, and ultimately aid development of the mature social brain. Play has been found to effect significant changes in the brain and is likely, therefore, an important factor in brain development. Dendritic length, complexity and spine density of the medial prefrontal cortex are refined by play.  Panksepp and colleagues found that play in rats reduced hyperactivity and possibly promoted behavioral inhibition and attention to surroundings, all of which are likely factors affecting children’s academic and social success. Suggesting that by adding ample play opportunities may help improve the success of ADHA treatment, especially in regards to social success. Play, after all is beneficial for all children, not just children with ADHA. Since play also improves self-control, attention, and hyperactivity, it may be that early play could prevent at least some diagnoses of ADHD as children age, according to the article.

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