Why do we play?

Jour Fixe talk by Wolf Huetteroth on July 19, 2017

Wolf Huetteroth is a Postdoctoral Fellow of the Zukunftskolleg affiliated with the Department of Biology.  

In his talk, he addressed the questions: Who apart from us is playing? What IS playing? And what is it good for?

Wolf gave an introduction into different forms of play including the wide distribution of play-like behavior among vertebrates, to address two main questions: Is play-like behavior universal, and if so, what is it good for? Surprisingly, a conclusive answer to this question is still missing. Insects need to tackle the same problems in their life as any other animal (including us): survive and reproduce. So if play-like behavior has any evolutionary advantage (and it should, since it is connected to serious costs), did insects also exploit this trait? To examine that, Wolf analyzed flies over several days in an enriched environment, with free access to food and water, and voluntary access to a spinning platform – a carousel.

Wolf proposes that an animal intentionally exposes its proprioceptors (body joint sensors) to external mechanical stimulation, i.e. centripetal force. This ‘intentional exafference’ is then used to challenge and train self-recognition memory (i.e. “self-awareness”) of the organism. During his talk he presented preliminary data of voluntary passive movement in fruit that is in line with this hypothesis.