Variability in Adult Playfulness Understudied Interview with:

PD Dr. René Proyer Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg Institut für Psychologie Abteilung Differentielle Psychologie und Psychologische Diagnostik

PD Dr. René Proyer

PD Dr. René Proyer
Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg
Institut für Psychologie
Abteilung Differentielle Psychologie und Psychologische Diagnostik What is the background for this study?

Response: I got interested in the study of playfulness and adult playfulness in particular while I was working in the Psychology Department at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. There we worked with the so-called Values-in-Action (VIA) classification of strength and virtues (developed by Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman). In this classification humor and playfulness are being used synonymously.

One of my first aims was testing whether this reflects their relation or whether they should be used separately. Overall, findings suggest that there is a relationship, but that the two are not redundant and should be studied separately. From there my interest in the field grew and I started reading more and more.

It soon was clear that playfulness is an understudied individual differences variable and that current conceptualizations focus primarily on the facets of playfulness that are associated with fun and entertainment, while disregarding others.

My research is aimed at narrowing some gaps in the literature and developing a structural model of how adult playfulness could be understood. What are the main findings?

Response: The study describes a new structural model that consists of four facets; namely:
(a) Other-directed (e.g., enjoying to play with others; using ones playfulness to make social relations more interesting or to loosen up tense situations with others;
(b) Lighthearted (e.g., seeing life as a game and not worrying too much about future consequences of one’s own behavior; liking to improvise);
(c) Intellectual (e.g., liking to play with ideas and thoughts; liking to think about and solving problems); and
(d) Whimsical (e.g., finding amusement in grotesque and strange situations; having the reputation of liking odd things or activities).

This introduces a short (28-item) measure for the assessment of the four facets and provides evidence for the reliability and validity of this scale. It is also shown that self-ratings and ratings by knowledgeable others converge well and that the scale is associated (in the expected range) with daily reports of playful behavior (averaged across 14 days). What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Being playful as an adult is not reduced to playing boardgames or playing video games. We can interact playfully with others (e.g., with our romantic partners—playfully teasing them; surprising them with something unexpected; etc.), or we can use playfulness for problem solving (e.g., seeing a problem from different angles, thinking a problem though, etc.). Research has shown that adults high in intellectual types of playfulness prefer complexity over simplicity and we know that those high in playfulness can use their playfulness to loosen up stressful situations (e.g., in a meeting, or when having a tense discussion with someone). Also, links to creativity have been proposed. Overall, it seems as if it would be beneficial to allow for some play in our daily lives—even for us adults. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We are currently working on a better understanding of how playfulness contributes to relationship satisfaction and see what types of satisfaction (e.g., communication or sexuality) show stronger/less strong associations. Furthermore, we currently examine what types of cues in the language people use for inferring playfulness in a person that they do not know well (e.g., when only reading a short text written by a target person). We will see whether those that are high in playfulness describe themselves, for example, by using more words associated with positive emotions or with lower anger expression and so forth.

A final example of future research is that we have started developing measures for adolescents and for children to see whether the assumptions of this model can be translated to younger age groups. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


A new structural model for the study of adult playfulness: Assessment and exploration of an understudied individual differences variable
Personality and Individual Differences
Volume 108, 1 April 2017, Pages 113–122

René T. Proyer,
Department of Psychology, Martin-Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Halle (Saale), Germany

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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Last Updated on January 15, 2017 by Marie Benz MD FAAD