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Animal play behavior. By Robert Fagen. New York Oxford University Press. 1981. XVIII + 684 pp. figures tables references indices. $19

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By Robert Fagen.
New York: Oxford University Press. 1981.
684 pp., figures, tables, references,
indices. $19.95 (paper).
Play Behavior,” that contains information on
play in 16 mammalian orders and 14 avian
orders, including a description of play which,
for most taxa, includes only descriptive
material, agehex distributions of play where
Robert Fagen has done those interested in available, and relevant bibliographic data. As
animal behavior a service by pulling together a a compendium on animal play, this 177-page
vast amount of material on play behavior and chapter is concluded with what may become
organizing it in a comprehensive manner. The the student of animal play’s handy desk
book, unlike some others dealing with animal reference: a series of 30 tables that summarize
play, has a theoretical axe to grind, and Fagen the textual information on the distribution of
questions why animals should risk time, animal play by taxonomic order. Chapter 4
energy, and injury in play. Fagen employs a so- examines the biological bases of animal play,
ciobiological framework to analyze possible particularly the application of life-history
costs and benefits of play for animals in iso- theory and the theory of optimal modifiability.
lated or social situations, and concludes that In Chapter 5 , the “BiologicalEffects of Play,”
because of its pervasiveness, evolutionary Fagen reviews the evidence for the costs of
theory predicts that benefits outweigh the play and then discusses six major hypotheses
about the biological effects of play, and
Research on animal play historically has concludes t h a t functional hypotheses
been considered the ugly duckling of behav- concerning physical training, regulation of
ioral sciences, and even the most recent efforts developmental rates, and social cohesion merit
have not been totally satisfactory, according further study. However, Fagen martials the
to Fagen, because they have lacked grounding most convincing data to support the physical
in evolutionary theory. Fagen notes (p. 16)that training and exercise hypothesis, which he
“no previous author has applied biological views as an evolutionary fitness paradigm.
theory of animal conflict, development, altru- Fagen addresses the question of why play
ism, manipulation, or deception to the study of appears to be absent from the behavioral
play.” While this is a bold statement, I must repertoire of animal species other than birds or
admit that Fagen is correct;, at least on most mammals, and why play may occur frequently
in populations of one species, but not in
Fagen deals with an important general ques- another, through the use of life-history
tion concerning the development of behavioral strategies. Social play, as compared to solitary
plasticity in many vertebrates. The issue, or object play, is addressed in Chapter 7, where
simply stated, is why do many vertebrates, Fagen develops models of optimal play
especially mammals, exhibit plasticity in strategies and discusses interesting models of
behavioral development, while others lack restraint and handicapping, among others.
behavioral plasticity? This is a tough question Perhaps, as with many of such books, the last
and one certainly worthy of a monograph in its chapter, with the obligatory extrapolation to
own right, but one that students of animal humans, is the most controversial. Fagen
behavior must come to grips with. Fagen admits that he may be going out on a limb, and
concludes that developmental plasticity is the I suspect that some will be close behind, saw in
evolutionary product of prenatal motility.
The book is technically well done and reflects
In the first chapter, Fagen provides a wellwritten statement of the problems with the Fagen‘s excellent scholarship. He has provided
study of animal play and a synopsis of his several useful appendices, as well as a detailed
solutions, basically the application of evolu- authorlsubject index and extensive bibliogtionary theory in an area that has lacked raphy (1,889references). In summary, the book
theory. In the second chapter, Fagen sets out will serve as a useful reference for those
the difficulties with research on animal play in nonspecialists interested in animal play, and
detail. The problems range from questions of will serve as a springboard for new theoretical
definition and categorization to the functional ideas among the specialists.
aspects of play. This is a particularly important chapter in that Fagen explicitly spells out
that what is needed when it comes to play is
Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center
less speculation and more science. In what I
Emory University
consider the most useful chapter in the book,
Atlanta, Georgia
Fagen next deals with the “Natural History of
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figuren, fages, xvii, university, references, roberts, play, 1981, new, york, behavior, animals, indices, tablet, 684, pres, oxford
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