Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Pretend play may not be as crucial to child development as believed, new study shows

Date:
August 28, 2012
Source:
University of Virginia
Summary:
Pretend play that involves uses of the imagination to create a fantasy world or situation can be fun for preschool children, but a new study finds that it is not as crucial to a child's development as currently believed.

Pretend tea party. Pretend play is any play a child engages in, alone, with playmates, or with adults, that involves uses of the imagination to create a fantasy world or situation, such as making toy cars go "vrrooooom" or making dolls talk.
Credit: SergiyN / Fotolia

Pretend play can be fun for preschool children, but a new University of Virginia study, published in the current online edition of the journal Psychological Bulletin, finds that it is not as crucial to a child's development as currently believed. Pretend play is any play a child engages in, alone, with playmates, or with adults, that involves uses of the imagination to create a fantasy world or situation, such as making toy cars go "vrrooooom" or making dolls talk.

Based on a number of key studies over four decades, pretend play is widely considered by psychologists -- and teachers and parents -- to be a vital contributor to the healthy development of children's intellect.

However, the new U.Va. study -- a thorough review of more than 150 studies -- looked for clearly delineated contributions of pretend play to children's mental development, and found little or no correlation.

Much of the previously presented "evidence" for the vitality of pretend play to development is derived from flawed methodology, according to Angeline Lillard, the new study's lead author and a U.Va. professor of psychology in the College of Arts & Sciences. She said testers might have been biased by knowledge that they were testing children who had engaged in adult-directed pretend play prior to testing.

"We found no good evidence that pretend play contributes to creativity, intelligence or problem-solving," Lillard said. "However, we did find evidence that it just might be a factor contributing to language, storytelling, social development and self-regulation."

She said it is often difficult for psychologists to separate whether children who engage in pretend play are already creative and imaginative, or if the pretend play, often encouraged by parents or teachers, actually promotes development.

"When you look at the research that has been done to test that, it comes up really short," Lillard said. "It may be that we've been testing the wrong things; and it may well be that when a future experiment is really well done we may find something that pretend play does for development, but at this point these claims are all overheated. This is our conclusion from having really carefully read the studies."

Lillard emphasized that various elements often present during pretend play -- freedom to make choices and pursue one's own interests, negotiation with peers and physical interaction with real objects -- are valuable, especially with appropriate levels of adult guidance.

These conditions exist both in pretend play and in other playful preschool activities that encourage children to discover their own interests and talents, such as the method used in Montessori schools.

Pretend play is also important diagnostically for children between 18 months and 2 years old, Lillard said. A complete absence of pretend play among children of that narrow age range could indicate autism, and suggests that such children be evaluated for other signs of the neurological disorder.

A growing problem, she said, is a trend in schools toward intensively preparing children for tests -- often supplanting organized and informal playtime, leading to a debate over whether early childhood curricula should include materials and time for pretend play.

"Playtime in school is important," Lillard said. "We found evidence that -- when a school day consists mostly of sitting at desks listening to teachers -- recess restores attention and that physical exercise improves learning."

Regarding pretend play, she said, "If adults enjoy doing it with children, it provides a happy context for positive adult-child interaction, a very important contributor to children's healthy development."

Stephen Hinshaw, editor of Psychological Bulletin and a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley, said, "The article by Lillard and colleagues is a game-changer -- a paragon of carefully-reasoned evidence that will challenge the play-based domination of the early-childhood field for years to come."

Lillard's graduate student co-authors are Rebecca Dore, Emily Hopkins, Matthew Lerner, Carrie Palmquist and Eric Smith.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Virginia. The original article was written by Fariss Samarrai. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Angeline S. Lillard, Matthew D. Lerner, Emily J. Hopkins, Rebecca A. Dore, Eric D. Smith, Carolyn M. Palmquist. The Impact of Pretend Play on Children's Development: A Review of the Evidence.. Psychological Bulletin, 2012; DOI: 10.1037/a0029321

Cite This Page:

University of Virginia. "Pretend play may not be as crucial to child development as believed, new study shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 August 2012. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120828152504.htm>.
University of Virginia. (2012, August 28). Pretend play may not be as crucial to child development as believed, new study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120828152504.htm
University of Virginia. "Pretend play may not be as crucial to child development as believed, new study shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/08/120828152504.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Mind & Brain News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Losing Sleep Leaves You Vulnerable To 'False Memories'

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A new study shows sleep deprivation can make it harder for people to remember specific details of an event. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

University Quiz Implies Atheists Are Smarter Than Christians

Newsy (July 25, 2014) An online quiz from a required course at Ohio State is making waves for suggesting atheists are inherently smarter than Christians. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

Beatings and Addiction: Pakistan Drug 'clinic' Tortures Patients

AFP (July 24, 2014) A so-called drugs rehab 'clinic' is closed down in Pakistan after police find scores of ‘patients’ chained up alleging serial abuse. Duration 03:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

New Painkiller Designed To Discourage Abuse: Will It Work?

Newsy (July 24, 2014) The FDA approved Targiniq ER on Wednesday, a painkiller designed to keep users from abusing it. Like any new medication, however, it has doubters. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins