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In ethology play is an important part of learning in many animals, though it is generally only seen in those with highly complex nervous systems such as mammals and birds. Infants experiment with adult behaviors including fighting to learn how to survive. Predators such as lions and bears play by chasing, pouncing, pawing, wrestling, and biting, as they learn to stalk and kill prey. Prey animals such as deer and zebras play by running and leaping as they acquire speed and agility. Hoofed mammals also practice kicking their hind legs to learn warding off attacks. While mimicking adult behavior, attacking actions such as kicking and biting are not completely fulfilled so that they won't injure each other. In social animals, playing might also help to establish dominance rankings among the young to avoid conflicts as adults.
Play however has traditionally been given little attention by behavioral ecologists. Edward O. Wilson wrote in Sociobiology that "No behavior has proved more ill-defined, elusive, controversial and even unfashionable than play". Though it received little attention in the early decades of æthology, there is now a considerable body of scientific literature resulting from research on the subject. Play does not have the central theoretical framework that exists in other areas of biology. Play may be vivisected into three general categories: Social play, locomotor play and object play.
The ventromedial nucleus is also important in play behaviour seen in mammals. Lesions to VMH along with the hippocampus, amygdala, the cerebellum and the lateral hypothalamus will all reduce play behaviour.
References & Bibliography
- ↑ Alex Hawes. Jungle Gyms: The Evolution of Animal Play. URL accessed on 2007-07-19.
- ↑ Wilson, E. O. (1975) Sociobiology: The New Synthesis Cambridge, M.A. Harvard University Press.
- The Genesis of Animal Play: Testing the Limits Gordon M. Burghardt 
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