Play fighting (rough-and-tumble play) in children: developmental and evolutionary perspectives

Smith, Peter K. and StGeorge, Jennifer M.. 2023. Play fighting (rough-and-tumble play) in children: developmental and evolutionary perspectives. International Journal of Play, 12(1), pp. 113-126. ISSN 2159-4937 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Play fighting and chasing in human children – often referred to as rough-and-tumble play, or RTP or R&T – is a common form of play, and one that has the most obvious correspondence to play in many (especially mammalian) non-human species. Unlike object, pretend and sociodramatic play, generally encouraged by teachers and parents, play fighting is viewed in a much more ambivalent way. The role it has in development, and whether this should be viewed in a positive or negative light, continues to be debated. Here we review what insights may be gained from research on play fighting in non-human species, main developmental trends in humans, definitional and measurement issues, cultural variations, and empirical data on the correlates found with behaviors of adaptive significance. We conclude with some reflections on theoretical issues and future research priorities. A consistent theme from work with non-human species, parent–child RTP, and peer-peer RTP, is that RTP experience is important for emotional control and the learning of restraint in what may be competitive or conflictual situations.

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Identification Number (DOI):


Playfighting; play chasing; rough-and-tumble; RTP; R&T

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29 June 2022Accepted
19 December 2022Published Online

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Date Deposited:

10 Jan 2023 11:06

Last Modified:

15 Mar 2023 11:46

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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