Play State

Run Free, paper collage, 2023

After I published my last post, On Play, there were some lingering questions I wanted to answer about the ways in which my thoughts and subjective experiences regarding play relate to current concepts in the psychology of creativity. Chief among those questions was, “What about flow state?” Specifically, how is the phenomenon psychologists refer to as “flow state” related to play? In addition, how does divergent thinking—measures of which psychologists often use to assess creativity—fit into this tripartite equation? And, lastly, what about openness to experience—the one personality trait most frequently linked to creativity?

Here (in order) are some attempted answers.

Flow state is play state.

The more I consider these complex psychological terms, the more I try to hold them in tandem, the more I feel as if I am unable to see the forest for the trees. And the louder and more insistent my inner voice becomes when it tells me, “You’re playing! Your creativity is born from an impulse to play!” Upon further consideration (and a bit of research), I think my inner voice is right.

The state psychologists refer to as “flow state”, which is characterized by heightened focus and concentration, loss of self-consciousness, and total immersion in the task at hand—a state most often realized by artists and other creators who are fully engaged in the act of creation—is no more than play. That is, flow state is what play looks like in adults. And for the purposes of this post, I’m calling it “play state”.

Into the Sunset, paper collage, 2023

Indeed, it’s been well-documented by both scientists and educators that children who are playing exhibit these same characteristics. They become fully immersed and engaged in the world of the imagination, often losing all sense of time and neglecting physical needs, like hunger. They are highly attentive and self-motivated, spontaneous and driven. None of these characteristics differ from scholarly (or popular) definitions of flow state. None. Therefore, it seems to me simplest and most logical to describe these phenomena, whether they’re observed in children or adults, using the same terminology.

Divergent thinking is “play thinking” in children and adults.

I won’t talk too much about divergent thinking here, as it was a central topic of my last post. But I will say this: I believe divergent thinking is an exploratory strategy used by children to help them learn, imagine, and discover, especially when they are at play.

In play, activity is “self-referenced”; in other words, the child relates to a familiar object in an open-ended manner and is free to manipulate that object in any way he or she wishes. Novel materials are likely to be met by the child with an exploration strategy. When exploring, the properties of the unfamiliar object are uppermost in the child’s attention, as opposed to his or her own responses to that object.

U. S. National Institute of Education

Divergent thinking is the process of creating multiple, often unique, solutions to a problem. Divergent thinking questionnaires typically ask a series of open-ended questions, like “What are some uses for a fork?” The more novel and unusual the response, the more creative potential the respondent is assumed to have. The divergent thinking strategies those questionnaires are asking respondents to use are no different from the “self-referenced” thinking described in the quote above, which is typical of children at play.

Chasing Daylight, paper collage, 2022

It should come as no surprise, then, that some studies have heralded children “creative geniuses” because they tend to score unusually high on divergent thinking questionnaires. It is my opinion that children are geniuses at play and that divergent thinking is a very common and very natural strategy that children implement to imagine, explore, discover, and make sense of the world. Adults who retain this capacity tend to be creative and to think in a divergent manner when creating, or when they themselves are at play.

Some adults remain children forever.

It has been well-established that creative adults exhibit a unique blend of personality traits, including both wisdom and childlike naïveté. It is my opinion that openness to experience, which includes a love of exploration, learning, imagination, and sensitivity, is one of those childlike traits—if not the most obvious and most frequently measured. People who are open retain a childlike curiosity about the world. They are inquisitive, creative, original, and it is, perhaps, easier for them than others to learn, or relearn, how to play as adults.

22 responses to “Play State”

  1. Interesting article and beautiful collages, sin duda!👍

    P.d.- As an adult suffering from the Peter Pan syndrome, I beg the voluntary and permanent presence of a good and patient woman who wants to be by my side in order to satisfy my childish whims. That is, to play with me the game I propose. No parents, sisters, or former high school or college classmates accepted. Thank you. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, J! 🙂

      P.s. – I think I know just the woman for you. But first, she would like to know the terms of your offer. Will you drive her around the Canary Islands on your yacht and drink Champagne with her on the weekends? Please think carefully before you respond. This is a very important question. 🥂🛥️🏝️

      Liked by 1 person

      • I can perceive your subtle poetic-materialist talent in your offer, L. A beautiful combination of insinuating and elusive, metaphorical and carnal language
        in that interesting mixture of yachts and champagne… Your offer leads me to imagine a disturbing parallel universe inhabited by many Suzzans who eternally play with me the game of hollow lives that sink into a reality whose code I’ve ost and will never return to. find… No, thanks, L. I’m not interested in your offer right now.
        Buenas noches, mi amiga. Estaré unos días desconectado. Espero volver pronto… Eres maravillosa!🌷

        Liked by 1 person

      • I knew that, embedded in that seductive offer, you would read the desires of your once-beloved Suzanne—shallow as always and still traipsing around the Canary Islands looking for a man with a yacht to take her home. 👙🏝️ Buenas noches, mi amigo. Te aprecio. Espero hablar contigo pronto. 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Your essay has inspired many thoughts in me, as you do! I will share a couple of them.

    Your post about creative children reminded me of a story I heard long about a child who proposed letting the air out of the tires to a vehicle too tall to fit under the overpass; a solution the adults had not thought of. Second story: my own creative daughter’s ability to get so lost in play as a youngster that mealtime was an annoyance. I could not relate. 😂 As you know, she is now an accomplished artist, who also takes care of herself with healthy meals. 😅

    Thank you for another thought-provoking essay!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m delighted you enjoyed this post, Michele. And thank you for sharing! Your first story reminds me of an example I came across while researching play that described a little girl who, while preparing a play dinner, took time to iron her asparagus with great care. 😂 Don’t be surprised if you see a similarly themed collage soon! It is easy to get so caught up in those playful moments that we lose track of outside concerns. Those are, perhaps, the best of times, though otherwise taking care of ourselves with healthy meals and plenty of exercise is necessary in our off-time. (You’ve just given me an idea for a forthcoming post, I think.) Thank you again! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great developed the flow state/play state very well. And I agree so much with your closing paragraph. “It has been well-established that creative adults exhibit a unique blend of personality traits, including both wisdom and childlike naïveté.” To gain wisdom while maintaining childlike wonder creates the perfect environment for creatives…well written, my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

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