Young children and young animals like to play with each other and like to do it often. Researchers Louk Vanderschuren and Corette Wierenga of Utrecht University are glad they do. They believe playing is a social stimulus that is very important for the development of the brain and of behaviour. Together, they recently received a NWO grant of almost 300,000 euros to further research the importance of playing.
Vanderschuren and Wierenga both have different backgrounds: Vanderschuren is a Professor of Veterinary Medicine and Wierenga is an Associate Professor of Science. However, they have an important shared field of interest: the brain. Within the university's strategic theme 'Dynamics of Youth', they teamed up, which resulted in the NWO grant.
These academics from Utrecht state that there are so-called critical periods that occur during the development of the brain. Vanderschuren says: "In these periods, roughly up to puberty, it is essential that there are enough external stimuli to properly construct a network of brain cells." In human brains, a lot of these networks are constructed. Some of them are not used; these inactive networks are eventually deconstructed.
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