Play is an important part of a child’s development. It enables them to engage creativity and learn necessary social skills. Children are often introduced to concepts like sharing, taking turns, and working together when they participate in group play. This critical time of development allows children to learn how to practice patience, empathy, and other necessary social skills. Although the research on play has demonstrated the many benefits, such as creativity and emotional maturity, few studies have looked at how creativity exhibited through play affects storytelling and divergent thinking, two aspects that further emotional regulation and enhance psychological development.
To address this, Jessica Hoffman and Sandra Russ of the Department of Psychology at Case Western Reserve University conducted a study involving 61 young girls in kindergarten through fourth grade. The team used the Affect in Play Scale to assess the girls’ mood processes and cognitive behaviors as they construed narratives. The researchers also relied on parent reports to measure emotional regulation and evaluated the girls for divergent thinking abilities throughout the task. They found the pretend play allowed the girls to express creativity that directly increased their divergent thinking abilities. The creative play enhanced storytelling skills of the participants and allowed them to express high levels of emotional regulation. The team also explored how executive functioning was affected by creative play but found no relationship.
Hoffman noted that the participants in this study were typically performing young girls and believes that additional research on clinical and nonclinical participants would further add to the limited literature on the many positive influences of pretend play. She said, “Overall, results of this study are promising with regards to the associations between pretend play and other important life skills for children.” With play therapy and other creative approaches receiving more attention in recent years, understanding the forces behind these often successful treatment methods is vital for clinicians interested in using these techniques.
Hoffan, J., Russ, S. (2012). Pretend play, creativity, and emotion regulation in children. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts 6.2, 175-184.
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