A study published recently in the American Journal of Play [PDF], attempts to discern why adults play and comes up with some interesting results.

Presumably, most of the skills that children need to be competent adults have been learned by the time they reach adulthood or, at least, learning them in the context of play has given way to learning them in the context of adult activities… With respect to adults, it is difficult to see how any possible future benefits of play could outweigh its immediate costs. Nevertheless, adult humans do play, commonly into old age.

Surveying university students, the study’s authors found that a playful attitude, sense of humor, and fun loving nature ranked among the most desirable characteristics in the selection of a long-term mate, easily beating out such factors as attractiveness and earning capacity. But why?

A study of previous literature and a breakdown of the survey results by gender suggest that the reasons are different for males and females:

For males, playfulness in females signals youth and, hence, fecundity; for females, playfulness in males signals nonaggressiveness.

[Source: The Strong]