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“I Did Not Have Time to Play Growing Up… So This is My Play Time. It's the Best Thing I Have Ever Done for Myself”: What is Play to Older Women?

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“I Did Not Have Time to Play Growing Up… So This is My Play Time. It's the Best Thing I Have Ever Done for Myself”: What is Play to Older Women?
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  See discussions, stats, and author profiles for this publication at:https://www.researchgate.net/publication/233626243 "I Did Not Have Time to Play GrowingUp... So This is My Play Time. It's theBest Thing I Have Ever Done for Myself": What is...  Article   in  Leisure Sciences · May 2008 DOI: 10.1080/01490400802017456 CITATIONS 21 READS 144 3 authors:Some of the authors of this publication are also working on these related projects: Culture Mediates the Effects of Leisure Constraints on Leisure Satisfaction: AReplication and Extension View projectCareen YarnalPennsylvania State University 52   PUBLICATIONS   614   CITATIONS   SEE PROFILE Garry ChickPennsylvania State University 74   PUBLICATIONS   836   CITATIONS   SEE PROFILE Deborah KerstetterPennsylvania State University 98   PUBLICATIONS   2,218   CITATIONS   SEE PROFILE   All content following this page was uploaded by Deborah Kerstetter on 18 August 2014. The user has requested enhancement of the downloaded file. All in-text references underlined in blue are added to the srcinal docuand are linked to publications on ResearchGate, letting you access and read them immediately.   Leisure Sciences , 30: 235–252, 2008Copyright  C  Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 0149-0400 print / 1521-0588 onlineDOI: 10.1080/01490400802017456 “I Did Not Have Time to Play Growing Up...So Thisis My Play Time. It’s the Best Thing I Have EverDone for Myself”: What is Play to Older Women? CAREEN MACKAY YARNALGARRY CHICKDEBORAH L. KERSTETTER Department of RecreationPark and Tourism ManagementThe Pennsylvania State University, USA  Little is known about play in older women’s leisure lives. An examination of The Red  Hat Society  R , a leisure-based social group, expanded an understanding of play byincludingolderwomen’sviewpoints.Becauseoftheabsenceofliteratureaboutemotionand friendship in both play theory and evolutionary theory, our research questionsincluded: how do older women define play, and what are the outcomes of older women’s play? Three themes about women’s play emerged from data analysis (a) a context for  fun, laughter, and feeling good, (b) the chance to be silly and goofy, and (c) positive public reaction to play. Results are discussed by extending current conceptualizationsof play theory and evolutionary theory and the roles of play in older women’s leisurelives and their health and well-being. Keywords  friendship, health, leisure, older women, play, positive emotions Much of leisure involves play (Sutton-Smith, 1997). Adults play games such as bridge(Scott & Godbey, 1992) and sports such as bowling (Heuser, 2005). Adult play tends to berule bound or structured in contrast to children’s play, which often is not (Sutton-Smith).An extensive literature describes play’s benefits for children (e.g., Chick & Barnett, 1995;Ellis, 1973; Piaget, 1951). Efforts to study how play may be beneficial to older adults,however, are limited (Cheang, 2002; Fine, 1991). Studies on older women’s play are almostnonexistent (Yarnal, 2004). Also absent from the literature is the contribution of play toolder women’s leisure lives (see Yarnal, 2006, as an exception).The paucity of research on older women’s play is inopportune because “... factors thatcanhelppeoplemaintainorenhancetheircognitiveandemotionalhealthastheygrowolder [should be] a major public health goal for [the United States]” (Hendrie et al., 2006, p. 13).By2030,forexample,oneinfourU.S.womenwillbeoverage65andwomenwhoreachthecurrentretirementageof65will,onaverage,liveanadditional19years(FederalInteragencyForum on Aging Related Statistics, 2004). Elder, Johnson, and Crosnoe (2003) suggestedthat play, playfulness, and having fun in later life may contribute to the maintenance of cognitive functioning and emotional growth. Further, the positive emotions and friendshipsassociated with play may be evolutionarily adaptive (Fredrickson, 2004; Taylor, 2002). Received 24 March 2006; accepted 7 April 2007.Address correspondence to Careen Mackay Yarnal, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Manage-ment,ThePennsylvaniaStateUniversity,812FordBuilding,UniversityPark,PA16802.E-mail:cmy122@psu.edu 235  236  C. M. Yarnal et al. The primary purpose of this study was to document how older women define play inone context, the Red Hat Society  R . A secondary purpose was to explore the outcomes of older women’s play in this context. The Red Hat Society is a leisure-based social group for women ages 50 and over. With a membership of over a million, the Society’s mission is toplay and have fun, to be silly, and to foster women’s friendship (Cooper, 2004).WelayouttheconceptualframeworkforevaluatingtheRedHatSocietybyhighlightingthe absence of research or theory about older women’s perspectives on play. We draw adistinction between ultimate and proximate explanations for play behavior. Concurrently,we build a case for incorporating evolutionary theory into play theory as a way to expandan understanding of the functions of play and leisure. We conclude by considering our findings by extending current conceptualizations of play theory and evolutionary theoryand by expanding an understanding of the role of play in older women’s leisure lives. Play Significant theoretical and conceptual gaps exist in the play literature (Chick, 2001). In thissection, we discuss the reasons for some of these gaps.  Research on Play Has an Uneven Academic History Burghardt(2005)remarkedthatplayhasahistoryof“benignneglect”(p.6).Severalauthorsunderscored this point by noting that play research lags other types of human and animalbehavior research (Bekoff & Byers, 1998; Sutton-Smith, 1997). Authors have expressed frustration given play’s ubiquity in humans and animals (Fagen, 1981; Pellegrini & Smith,2005; Power, 2000). Yet, according to Burghardt, “Defining play and its role is one of thegreatest challenges facing.... the social sciences generally” (p. xii). How older women’scontributions might further the conceptualization of play is completely unrecognized.Although play is easy to recognize, it is hard to understand. The result is a history of problems associated with defining play, challenges with distinguishing it from other typesof behavior, and patterns of uneven conceptual and theoretical development. A consensus,notably from male perspectives (Duncan, 1988), is that play exhibits certain characteristicsthat differentiate it from other types of behavioral activity (Bateson, 2005; Fagen, 1981).Table 1 presents common characteristics of play. The lists for animal play and humanplay show considerable overlap. For example, both lists highlight that play is fun, social,voluntary, experimental, and creative, and that it occurs only in a relaxed and safe context.Missing from this body of work is empirical evidence from women’s perspectives on playthat might support or reconfigure these lists.To complicate matters, the function of play is controversial. At one end of the nofunction/function continuum are researchers such as Sutton-Smith (1997) who argued thatplay has no function but to prepare for more play. At the other end of the continuum areindividuals such as Fagen (1981) who viewed play as innate behavior, “to develop, practiceor maintain physical or cognitive abilities and social relationships” (p. 65). Alternativetheories occupy the space between these opposing viewpoints (Duncan, 1988). Burghardt(1998) observed, “In most areas of behavior, the functional approach has yielded greatrewards rather quickly once adaptive explanations have been carefully stated and explored.Unfortunately this has not been the case with play” (p. 3). If functional explanations for play yield limited results, then the question again becomes, why does play exist? Morespecifically, what is the function of older women’s play?  Problems Exist with Current Explanations for Play Chick (2001) argued that explanations for play fall into the two basic categories: proximateand ultimate. Proximate explanations “govern responses of the individual to immediate  What is Play to Older Women?  237 TABLE 1  Common Characteristics of PlayBurghardt (2005)5 criteria of play(must all be presentto some degree)Burghardt (2005)5 criteria of playexpandedHuizinga (1960)Characteristics of play(no discussion of extentmust be present)1. Limited immediatefunctionNot serious. Not of immediate useIncludes elements or isdirected towards stimulithat do not contribute tocurrent survivalCreates culture. FosterscreativitySocial functionsIntegratesAllows negotiation of social statusDramatizes major divisionsin societyCultural functionsDisplays oppositionsReaffirms fundamentalsocietal concernsCreates public memoriesNot necessary for survivalNot for material gainDisinterestedIrrational2. Endogenous component VoluntaryIntrinsically motivatedSpontaneousRewarding or reinforcingFun, pleasurable and joyfulCan be solitary or socialSocial play is contagiousVoluntaryNot a dutySelf-controlledAllows escape fromobligationCan be deferred or suspendedFun but serious. Does notinvolve laughter SocialPromotes the formation of social groups3. Relaxed field Occurs in a “relaxed field”free from stress andother behavioralrequirements like sleepMay involve risk anddanger Disappears under stressOccurs in protected spacesMay involve risk and danger to players and audiences.Uncertain outcomeCannot be forced4. Structural or temporal differenceCharacteristics thatstructurally or temporarily set playapart from seriousperformanceInvolves different spatial andtemporal rhythms toordinary life (Continued on next page)  238  C. M. Yarnal et al. TABLE 1  Common Characteristics of Play  (Continued) Burghardt (2005)5 criteria of play(must all be presentto some degree)Burghardt (2005)5 criteria of playexpandedHuizinga (1960)Characteristics of play(no discussion of extentmust be present)Involves behavior patternswith modified form or sequencingMay involve self handicapping or rolereversalMay be exaggerated inintensity or duration fromnormal expression.May be awkward or unpolishedAllows for experimentationInterestingMay involveexaggerated behaviorsPlayers separatethemselves fromnon-players bydisguise. SecretiveMay involve rolereversalInhabited by feelings of differencePretend or make-believeAllows for experimentationAbsorbing5. Repeated performance Repeatedly performed.Involves masteryDiffers from exploratoryand obsessive or stereotyped behavior Has rules or isdependent on order Linked to ritualfactors of the environment” (Mayer, 1961, p. 1503). These explanations answer   how  ques-tions, such as how do animals initiate play? Goldsmith (1991) noted that a proximateexplanation of behavior, which is at one level of causation, “has to do with the character-istics of the organism we can see....but such descriptions will say nothing of the relevantprocesses that took place in the evolutionary time [leading to the behavior]” (p. 6). Hence,to understand the forces of evolution including the selection pressures that lead to older women’s play, researchers must ask a question that is at a different level of causation fromthose involved in proximate explanations: w hy  do older women play at all?Play is commonly part of the behavioral repertoire of mammals, some birds, and afew other species (Bateson, 2005) and is part of the extended phenotypes of those species.Extended phenotypes refer to behaviors such as mating displays, or artifacts such as spider webs that are genetic in nature and subject to evolutionary pressures (Dawkins, 1982). Thequestion is “why play?” From an evolutionary perspective, most answers to this questioninvolve natural selection (Burghardt, 2005). The play of juvenile animals enhances fitnessover the long term at the expense of the short term through learning about the physicaland social environment, establishing social relationships, enhancing physical fitness, andlearning problem solving. Burghardt (1998) indicated that the idea that play prepares or-ganisms for their futures is one of “two perennial views of why play exists” (p. 5). Theother dominant view is that play is a legacy of childhood. Most ultimate causal explana-tions for play are of the first type. Play prepares animals for their futures (Burghardt, 1998).
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