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by Allison Aboud Holzer

Last night I attended a fundraiser at the Yale 82850635-bodyimageSchool of Management (SOM) called SOMonopoly. Not only were the “bling”-themed costumes fabulous but all of the decorations were customized, making the event both visually and emotionally colorful! As I watched live auctions for things like A Block Party Thrown Your Honor, I marveled at the themed décor including “property squares” named after local streets like Whitney Avenue rather than the traditional Park Place.

Between Halloween and school plays, kids have lots of opportunities to dress up and play games. My neighborhood friends used to play cops and robbers and Marco Polo, and these fantasies made us smile, laugh, and connect with each other. Several years later, my favorite day of High School used to be Pajama Day! Then, college campuses throw cocktail theme parties and many people carry these traditions well into adulthood. So, while the concepts of throwing theme parties, dressing up, and playing games, are nothing new, what makes them so much fun, especially in combination with one another?

Psychologically, play is essential to well-being and an important contributor to creativity. Research by Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson demonstrates that positive emotions actually have an adaptive function for human beings. While fear induces a “fight-or-flight” response that allows us to better focus in danger situations, joy creates a “broaden-and-build” response that promotes creativity and innovative thinking. Despite the stereotype of the tortured artist, research studies provide evidence that depression and anxiety inhibit, rather than expand, creative thinking. Therefore, engaging in play through dress up and games inspires positive emotions like joy, and ultimately, creative expression.

Play also provides us with a chance to engage in Flow – a process by which we are fully concentrated on a task to the point where we lose track of time. Just like toddlers, we adults benefit from the structured playtime games provide. Clearly defined tasks allow us to learn new things by challenging us without demanding too much. This optimal balance of structure and challenge promotes an environment for us to experience Flow.

Finally, play creates an opportunity for emotional connection with others. Sitting around a board game can feel quite intimate, but even Wii games like Rockband and Mario Kart can stimulate conversation, laughter, and bonding. A friend of mine recently attended a murder mystery party where she had to arrive in costume and socialize while acting in character.

So, with just a little theme scheming, you too can pull together an event that has your friends playing dress up and games all night!

** Fredrickson, B.L. (2004). The Broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Philosophical Transactions: Biological Sciences, 359 (1449), 1367-1377.

** Optimal experience by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Cambridge University Press (1992).

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