Bob Fagen

My primary research interest is the biology of play in animals. My book Animal Play Behavior (Oxford University Press, 1981) remains a standard reference on the topic, and I am writing a new scholarly book on animal play.

My previous field research, conducted with co-investigator Johanna Fagen, was on play behavior in brown bears (Ursus arctos) on Admiralty Island, Alaska, a ten-year study. I am also interested in the behavior and biology of other mammals and birds, including domestic species, and I have also previously studied horses and domestic dogs.

Play experience increases survival in the young of the brown bears we studied and in several other species. This finding potentially links play with the field of evolutionary ecology.

I am currently reviewing the natural history literature on animal play. Two questions about animal play are of particular interest to me at the moment.

First, I am investigating the conventional separation between the biological functions of play as facilitation of behavioral flexibility and play as facilitation of social bonding. Creativity and love are demonstrably different concepts, but do they converge biologically to point the way to something more fundamental? Perhaps the single most salient feature of play in both humans and nonhuman animals is a seamless and integral blend of love and creativity that has to date defied precise characterization. Whatever one’s personal views of the history of life on earth, this inquiry hopes to focus increased attention on an essential unity that we as yet have no words to describe as scientists.

Second, play researchers are currently attempting to assimilate an explosion of findings that have been interpreted as identifying play in species far removed from the mammals and birds that have traditionally constituted play’s heartland. The envelope that circumscribes the phylogenetic distribution of play in nature has no known theoretical limit. Curiously, the value of 5% time spent playing for animal time budgets appears (to date) to be invariant across species independent of relative brain size or behavioral complexity. If further data confirm this supposition, it would be extremely exciting. The work of collecting data on animal time budgets from a vast, scattered and inadequately indexed conventional and gray literature is more than daunting, especially when subject to constraints, but mountains move.

I work with students in Juneau, Alaska and remotely on the Internet. Our interests include zoology, cosmology, the neurosciences generally, and the brain-body system as the material basis of mind, movement and behavior. Our ages range from 9 to 71, our backgrounds from Tlingit-French to Paraguayan Mennonite and Russian American. Our other interests include dance and hiking with our bestfriends. We are committed to the pluralistic study of the history of life on earth. Through our publishing arm, Dream Farm Press, we seek to make our work available to a wide international audience.

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