Safety and Connection: e Neurobiology of Play
What do we know about the neurobiology of play that will help us understand this transformative shi©? We can begin with the work of Jaak Panksepp (1998, 2008), a neuroscientist devoted to the study of the brain’s
motivational circuitry. Spending time with animals ¨rst and then children, he discovered seven ¢ows of energy and information that are part of our genetic inheritance, all of them lying deep within the limbic region of the brain. Social creatures that we and our mammal compatriots are, the functions of these circuits all have to do with maintaining or regaining connection with one another. In childhood, six of the seven are present from the beginning of life. ree are available when we feel safe, comfortable, and connected-the seeking system (curiosity and exploration), the care and bonding system (attachment and empathy), and the play system (the free-¢owing, full-bodied, uninhibited expression of joy). While one or another of these systems may be in the lead, they o©en blend in the richness of the space between two people. e other three ¢ows of motivation manifest when we fall out of connection-fear, separation panic, and rage. ey seem to be intended to signal so much distress that someone will read the need in our face, voice, and body and will feel moved to come to our aid through reconnecting with us. e joyous news about this is that we don’t need to teach children to play but instead need to remove the obstacles so that the natural capacity can emerge.