Playfulness is associated with having a higher number of short-term and long-term relationships, according to new research published in Evolutionary Human Sciences.
Previous research has demonstrated that playfulness is a preferred characteristic in potential long-term partners for both men and women. Playfulness might serve as a signal of desirable qualities. For men, it might signal nonaggressiveness to women. For women, it might signal youthfulness and thus fertility. In their new study, researcher Yago Luksevicius de Moraes and his colleagues at the University of São Paulo sought to examine whether playfulness in adults would correspond to potential reproductive success.
“I am interested in adult gaming and, since my adolescence, gender differences in gaming have impressed me,” said de Moraes, a doctoral student. “Especially the importance each gender gives to games (either digital games, sports, tabletop, gambling and so on). As I proposed studying games to my mentor, she insisted there should be some kind of measure of a personality type of gaming propensity and so we started searching, until we found scales about playfulness and decided to use them.”
“Since we were using an evolutionary approach, we wondered if gaming provided any benefits for survival and/or reproduction. We found some arguments in favor of a differential benefit of attractiveness through playful displays, and so we decided to test if playfulness and gaming predicted a higher number of mates.”
In the new study, 1,191 Brazilian adults indicated how many short-term relationships and how many long-term relationships they had had in their life. The participants also completed a questionnaire that measured four facets of playfulness: Other-directed playfulness assessed the tendency to enjoy playing with others and using playfulness to make social relations more interesting. Lighthearted playfulness assessed the tendency to see life as a game and not worry too much about the future. Intellectual playfulness assessed the tendency to enjoy playing with ideas and solving problems. Whimsical playfulness assessed the tendency to find enjoyment in strange situations and finding it easy to amuse oneself and/or others in everyday interactions.
The researchers found that men who scored higher on the other-directed facet of playfulness tended to have a higher number of both short-term and long-term partners. On the other hand, women who scored higher on the whimsical facet of playfulness tended to have a higher number of short-term partners. The findings highlight that “playfulness is very complex and can be divided into different kinds,” de Moraes said. “Each type can affect some areas and not others or work differently for certain groups.”
But the study — like all research — includes some caveats.
“We tested a very broad type of playfulness and its correlation only with the number of mates,” de Moraes said. “But it can work differently depending on how one understands playfulness. For example, in my dissertation, I found that the more a woman games, the more likely she is to be playful (whimsical playfulness) than women who game less. No pattern was observed in men and gaming did not predict number of mates to either sex. This is almost the opposite pattern of the one reported in the current study.”
In addition, “it is important to remember that results are given as averages. Individually, it is not possible to say if a person is playful or not, nor if playfulness predicts a higher number of mates based solely on someone’s gender. But, as the number of people increases, it is expected that our findings become visible.”
“I think we are far from understanding what playfulness and similar phenomena are,” the researcher added. “For example, in English, someone can ‘play’ a board game, a musical instrument, a role, a sport, a trick, or with dolls. But in Portuguese, we use a different verb for each one of these things and the closest meaning to ‘play’ would be limited to dolls. However, no one would disagree that all these things can be fun and ludic.”
“As shown by Johan Huizinga, to understand the role of play/game, we have to consider the role of competition, cooperation, aesthetic values, fairness, dissimulation, and social relationships,” de Moraes said. “But instead, we are constructing theories about ‘playfulness trait’, ‘digital games’, ‘sports’, ‘social dilemmas’ (Game Theory), etc. This is not a problem when we consider specific qualities of each one of these things, or when we try to understand the specifics to organize what we know about the general, but we need to keep in mind that play/games are transdisciplinary, transmidiatic, exciting and frustrating.”
The study, “Adult playful individuals have more long- and short-term relationships“, was authored by Yago Luksevicius de Moraes, Marco Antonio Correa Varella, Caio Santos Alves da Silva, and Jaroslava Varella Valentova.