6-1 | Running on Empty?


Running on Empty?
Observing Causal Relationships of Play and Development

Paul L. Harris and Malak Jalloul


In an article in the January 2013 Psychological Review, Lillard, Lemer, Hopkins, Dore, Smith, and Palmquist set out to critique the customary claim that pretend play contributes to healthy child development. Following Peter Smith, they distinguished three possibilities for the impact of pretend play. Pretend play, they proposed, might serve a crucial causal role in healthy development, function as one of many equifinal routes to healthy development, or represent an epiphenomenon of other factors that promote healthy development. They reviewed a variety of correlational and experimental studies to choose among these three possibilities and, in the absence of consistently strong positive correlations, they cast doubt on the notion that pretend play serves a crucial, causal role. In this article, Harris and Jalloul review the arguments of the Lillard article to reassess this negative conclusion. The authors suggest that studies emphasizing the frequency of pretend play may not be able to tell us whether it serves a crucial role in healthy development. Key words: cross-cultural comparison; children with autism and pretend play; early-child development; pretend play; theory-of-mind tasks and pretend play