Studying the Science of Play

Studying the Science of Play

The National Institute for Play, a non-profit research and education corporation, believes that to experience what it means to become fully human requires lifelong immersion in healthy play. Per below, it also exists to unlock the human potential through play at all stages of life using science to discover what play has to teach us about transforming out world.

To provide a context for these very broad statements that are not yet fully embraced by contemporary society, let’s take a quick review of the Institute’s history.

Its founder and current president, Dr. Stuart Brown, had discovered early in his academic career as a psychiatrist studying human violence through examining the life stories of murderers, that a common theme in their backgrounds was a severe absence of normal play behavior. This led him to a lifelong curiosity about just what play is. With his background in medicine he was grounded in looking at its complexities and paradoxes through the lens of science. As he examined play through reviews of the flood of fresh data from the biological sciences, plus extensive clinical observations in humans, and through the National Geographic Society viewing its sparkling presence in the animal world, it became clear that the discipline of play science was emergent and needed a voice.

By 1996, Dr. Brown, his future Advisors and a fledgling Board realized that a distinguished group of play experts from all points of the scientific and practitioner worlds were capable collectively of providing new ways of credibly “seeing” play behavior. So the National Institute for Play was formally launched.

The major activities of the NIFP have been to advocate for play while staying abreast of the continuing play-based advances largely grounded in solid science. It has also produced some of the following:

  • A PBS 3 hour special TV series, “The Promise of Play.”
  • A Stanford University based conference, “The First State of Play Science.”
  • Numerous public presentations bringing the story of play into broader public consciousness, such as the TED/Serious Play/Stuart Brown widely reviewed video.
  • Funded by a grant from IPEMA, the recently released “Encyclopedia of Play Science” featuring essays by distinguished NIFP Advisors (

Ideally, the present state of knowledge about the importance of play throughout the human life cycle, its necessity for competency, emotional regulation, cooperation, and altruism (and more) transcend the NIFP as a small non-profit research and education corporation. The necessity of play and its participation in our species’ well-being and long term survival (yes, play is a survival instinct) mean that well-funded research and practical applications of play science belong as a worldwide public health requirement extending well beyond our current capabilities.

It is the goal of the NIFP to bring these remarkably important, accurate, and needed perceptions of play into overall societal consciousness and practice. The Board and Advisors of the Institute are dedicated to these visions and goals.

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