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Rough and Tumble Play

Rough and Tumble play occurs when two mammals wrestle and fight without any hostility; it is play fighting essentially. They will claw, bite and push each other without applying any serious force. It is one of the most basic forms of play; humans do it when they are younger too. Studying “rough and tumble play” is one of the best methods for studying the mechanics of the brain since the activity spans across a wide variety of species—including birds. However, the studies tend to focus on rats, namely the domesticated ones. Rats are generally all we need in order to fully understand the reasons for play fighting across every specious.

Tool for The Social Brain

As previously stated, play fighting tends to happen with mammals that are young, and the typical purpose of studying these fights is to see what possible benefits they may have on the mind. Through the study of rats, it seems that one of the possible explanations behind playfighting is to prepare the mind for the unexpected. Rats perform this by figuring out ways to gain the upper hand over their partner. It also helps them learn how to deal with situations that they have lost control over.

Tools for Assessment and Manipulation

The purpose of playing changes when mammals grow up. Now, instead of helping the brain develop, adults play in order to quell social conflict, test relationships out with strangers, and reduce stress. The physical aspects of play fighting when younger may also serve to help teach manipulation in adults. Physical touch is necessary for releasing neurochemicals that convince others to cooperate. Rats do this in order to assess their relationship with others and enforce their dominance.

While the studies of rough and tumble play in rats have certainly helped researchers to understand some of the benefits it has on the brain, it should be noted that these studies were only done on domesticated rats, meaning only on rats that already have similarities with how humans interact with one another. Still, there are also a few studies that claim rats in the wild play with one another as children and adults as well, so there may still be some backbone to the domesticated research. Also, even if play fighting and its effects are features of domestication, studying it still helps us better understand the development of other species and how play affects their day-to-day life.

What Does Play Fighting Help Us Understand?
Play fighting has an element of ambiguity in its application that must be present in order for it to work. If one partner gets too aggressive with its play style against another partner, then the partner that was wronged has to make a decision: were they hurt them on purpose or was it really an accident? Typically, in both rats and humans, the normal choice is to decide that it was an accident, but when repeat offenses happen, they opt to stop playing with the offender completely. This decision-making process is the product of play fighting.

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