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In psychology and ethology, play is a range of voluntary, intrinsically motivated activities normally associated with recreational pleasure and enjoyment. Play is commonly associated with children and juvenile-level activities, but play occurs at any life stage, and among other higher-functioning animals as well, most notably mammals.
Many prominent researchers in the field of psychology, including Melanie Klein, Jean Piaget, William James, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and Lev Vygotsky have viewed play as confined to the human species, believing play was important for human development and using different research methods to prove their theories.
Play is often interpreted as frivolous; yet the player can be intently focused on their objective, particularly when play is structured and goal-oriented, as in a game. Accordingly, play can range from relaxed, free-spirited and spontaneous through frivolous to planned or even compulsive. Play is not just a pastime activity; it has the potential to serve as an important tool in numerous aspects of daily life for adolescents, adults, and cognitively advanced non-human species (such as primates). Not only does play promote and aid in physical development (such as hand–eye coordination), but it also aids in cognitive development and social skills, and can even act as a stepping stone into the world of integration, which can be a very stressful process.
"Summing up the formal characteristic of play, we might call it a free activity standing quite consciously outside 'ordinary' life as being 'not serious' but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings that tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress the difference from the common world by disguise or other means."
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