Volume 9, Number 2

Editor's Note

Welcome to the American Journal of Play special issue on the emerging discipline of interpersonal neurobiology. Special theme issues focus on important topics in the fast-developing study of play. Each features a guest editor, a distinguished expert in the topic; and each includes work by leading research-ers and thinkers in the field. Our guest editor, psychologist and play theorist Terry Marks-Tarlow, has assembled a series of articles offering a wide lens for examining play that includes work from such fields of study as neuro science, neurochemistry, evolutionary and developmental psychology, psychiatry, psychotherapy, ethology, aesthetics, and anthropology.

An interview with neuropsychologist Allan N. Schore, who has pioneered the fields of interpersonal neurobiology and regulation theory, opens the issue. An article follows by anthropologist and independent scholar Ellen Dissanayake, who investigates the evolutionary origin of the arts. Our guest editor herself contributes with a piece on deception and self-deception in a case of sexual abuse that recruited play-like fantasy. Clinical professor of psychiatry, Yakov Shapiro, along with co-authors Terry Marks-Tarlow and concert pianist and conductor Joseph Fridman, explore the parallels between musical improvisation and psychotherapy. Larry Vandervert investigates the behavioral, cognitive, and affective influences of the cerebellum in the evolution of play and culture. And sex-addiction therapist Alexandra Katehakis explores the dangers of confusing female rape fantasy with real sexual violence. Taken together, these articles examine how the unity of brain, mind, and body—the product of soothing and playful attachment and attunement—arises out of healthy relationships that nurture love, creativity, and play.



Allan N. Schore has served on the clinical faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine since 1996 and has maintained a private clinical practice for more than four decades. He has contributed significant research to the disciplines of interpersonal neurobiology, affective neuroscience, psychiatry, psy   cho-analysis, psychotherapy and clinical social work, and infant mental health and trauma theory. He is best known for his integration of neuroscience and attachment theory, his idea of attunement between mothers and infants, his investigation of right-brain regulation of emotion, and his applications of neuroscience in psychoanalysis and models of psychotherapy. Given the Scientific Award from the Division of Psychoanalysis of the American Psy-chological Association in 2008, he is a prolific writer whose works include The Science of the Art of Psychotherapy, Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self, Affect Dysregulation and Disorders of the Self, and Affect Regulation and the Repair of the Self. In this interview, he discusses his scholarly and clinical career in neuroscience and neuropsychoanalysis and the breakthroughs in brain science that have changed our understanding of lived experience. Key words: affect regulation; attachment theory; neuroscience; mind, brain, and body; regulation theory; right brain


by Ellen Dissanayake


The author considers the biological basis of the arts in human evolution, which she holds to be grounded in ethology and interpersonal neurobi-ology. In the arts, she argues, ordinary reality becomes extraordinary by attention-getting, emotionally salient devices that also appear in ritualized animal behaviors, many kinds of play, and the playful interactions of human mothers with their infants. She hypothesizes that these interactions evolved in humans as a behavioral adaptation to a reduced gestation period, promot-ing emotional bonding between human mothers and their especially help-less infants. She notes that the secretion of opioids, including oxytocin, that accompany birth, lactation, and care giving in all mammals is amplified in human mothers by these devices, producing feelings of intimacy and trust that engender better child care. The same devices, exapted and acquired culturally as arts, she argues, became prominent features of group ritual ceremonies that reduced anxiety and unified participants, which also offered evolutionary advantages. Key words: artification; ethology; interpersonal neurobiology; mother-infant play; origins of the arts

by Terry Marks-Tarlow


The author employs neurobiology to help explore deception in nature and self-deception in human beings. She examines activities that may appear playful but that lack such hallmark qualities of play as equality, mutual pleasure, and voluntarism and that can, therefore, prove psychologically destructive. She warns that the kind of playful interactions of parents and children that help connect the concept of self with the concept of other and to expand children’s imaginative horizons during healthy development may turn defensive and do harm during severe trauma. Such interactions can shrink mental horizons, help separate mind from body, and facilitate the disconnection of the self from others. These devastating outcomes occur especially when play-like activities seem to offer in fantasy a safety absent from real life. The author uses the clinical case of a victim of sexual abuse to illustrate such unhealthy activity and the compulsion and dissociation it creates, which can foster the epigenetic transmission of incest from one generation to the next. Key words: interpersonal neurobiology; fantasy; dis-sociation; self-deception; emotional regulation; epigenetics

by Larry Vandervert


The author suggests the brain’s cerebellum and cerebral cortex are the ori-gin of culture and considers the cerebellar models that came to constitute culture to be derived specifically from play. He summarizes recent research on the behavioral, cognitive, and affective evolution of the cerebellum and the cerebral cortex that shows the development of these processes created increased efficiencies, unconscious control of complex situations, the ability to predict probable future circumstances before they occur, error correction in emotional and social situations, and an unconscious blending of compo-nents to solve new problems. He argues that human play evolved from animal play, which helped train animals to deal with unexpected circumstances. As animal play evolved toward human play, rule-governed imagination allowed play to help predict events through sequence detection. Human play then led to the advent of culture, which socially amplified the advantages of these adaptations. The author contends that this creative blending of cerebellar models provides an explanation of Lev Vygotsky’s (1978) most compelling insights about play. He concludes that, although play and culture appear dramatically different, they develop from the same brain mechanisms. Key words: animal play; brain evolution; cerebellum; creativity; culture; play; socialization; Vygotsky; zone of proximal development

by Yakov Shapiro, Terry Marks-Tarlow, and Joseph Fridman


The authors investigate the parallels between musical performance and psy-choanalytical therapy, using the former as a metaphor for the way therapist and patient jointly compose the therapeutic experience and better the treat-ment it offers. Key words: evolution; fractals; music; neuroscience; psycho-dynamic; psychotherapy

by Alexandra Katehakis


The author looks at the psychology of sexuality and its origins in the brain’s cortex. She discusses how the cues for desire sometimes overshadow mere physiological cues and how they may be healthy or unhealthy. She argues that understanding the intricate neurochemical and neurostructural work-ings of the mind and the central and autonomic nervous systems in both men and women—and their dependence on early attunement—helps thera-pists and patients distinguish sexual play from predatory, trauma-inducing sexual aggression and that this distinction is crucial given the centrality of the mammalian emotional circuit of play in our brain processes, including the sexual. She discusses the dangers of mistaking forcible rape fantasy for a real-life desire and examines other fantasies and the sexual role play that fuel our sexuality. She warns of the psychological and emotional damages of isolating, nonconsenual sex. And she  discusses how sexual play can provide emotional attunement, joy, and sociability to human life. Key words: sexual fantasy; sexual play; reward center

Book Reviews

by Terry Marks-Tarlow

The Poet’s Voice in the Making of Mind tackles one of the most fascinating mys-teries of all: how the human mind comes into being and what distinguishes it from our nearest simian relatives. The book sweeps across evolution and development at a dizzying pace, touching upon biology, philosophy, linguistics, psychotherapy, lit-erature, human development, and neuro-science. Meares’s through line is how the germ of mind gets planted in each child initially through play. The process begins with the earliest conversations between mother and child, when instinctively the mother sets up a kind of pretend game that is half real, half imaginary. Mother speaks to baby “as if ” the infant under-stands; and through her words and coos, she pours hopes, dreams, intentions, and perceptions into the space between herself and the baby. Amazingly, from the start, baby does understand mother’s love, her underlying intentions, and the nuances of her tone. Through this dialogue, a child slowly internalizes a mother’s pictures of inner and outer worlds, eventually under-standing even the content of her words.

by Hilary Levey Friedman

“We should schedule a playdate!” In the world of modern parenting, these words have become more and more common. So common in fact that businesses have evolved to create business cards for chil-dren and families to make scheduling playdates even easier.

by Patricia M. (“Patsy”) Cooper

At its heart, Teaching Kindergarten: Learner-Centered Classrooms for the 21st Century is a paean to the play-based, inter-est-driven kindergarten we know from the annals of progressive education. Its osten-sible goal, though, is to resist the increas-ingly more familiar kindergarten, where a skills-based and overtly academic cur-riculum favors more time on the rug for minilessons and less time on it for building with blocks. But to label Teaching Kinder-garten a mere apologia would be to give it short shrift. It is also an up-to-date and highly persuasive argument about why the trend toward all academics all the time is so unnecessary if later academic achieve-ment is truly tied to what children learn in kindergarten. To this end, coeditors and longtime early-childhood educators and leaders Julie Diamond, Betsy Grob, and Fretta Reitzes offer a hefty collection of teachers’ stories that demonstrate the advantages of learner-centered—progressive—education for five-year-olds.

by Page L. Thanasiu

Play therapists understand that children communicate best through play and, in effect, use toys as their words to express their confusion and pain as well as their joy. Play therapists not only use this form of communication with children to help them heal, but they also teach other important people in a child’s life to com-municate with the child in this special way. In this spirit, Schaefer and Cangelosi pro-vide readers with a user friendly guide of fifty-eight different techniques with count-less variations that can be applied while playing with children. The book is very well organized with interventions coming from seven broad categories that include techniques involving specific toys, meta-phors, role playing, creative arts, fantasy, and games.

by Matthew Thompson

Game audio has always been an integral part of game play, first attracting players to place their quarters into the coin slots of early arcade games and later not only pro-viding important game play feedback but also creating immersive environments for gaming at home. We have, however, begun the serious academic study of game audio only during the last decade or so. Andrew Schartmann’s and William Cheng’s new books make varied and welcome entries into this bourgeoning field.

by Matthew Wysocki

EVE Online is a game I wish I played. The reasons that I do not are numerous but Internet Spaceships Are Serious Business highlights one of the most crucial: it is a game space that appears actually to dis-courage participation. It has a steep learn-ing curve, requires a large commitment of time from participants, and has frequent and brutal sanctions against failure. The editors even go so far as to claim that the game “scream[s] ‘don’t play me’ as a new user” because if “a video game should always be fun, then EVE Online isn’t a very good video game” (p. xi). Perhaps that is why, although EVE Online was released by CCP Games to the public over thirteen years ago, it has not received nearly the academic scrutiny many other Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) such as World of Warcraft have received. And yet the fifteen essays, written by a mix of academics, developers, and players, tackle the issue of this game’s definitive and enduring appeal to a highly dedicated player base. In doing so, they additionally expand our understanding of how to conceptualize both the nature of a game and the notion of what is entailed in the activity of play.

by Randy Nichols

As the first book in The MIT Press’ new Game Histories series, Debugging Game History: A Critical Lexicon has a heavy burden to lift. It needs to estab-lish the importance and usefulness of the series and, because it takes the form of a lexicon for a growing area of study, it also must create a space for a conversation in which it will take part. On both counts, the book succeeds. This success is, at least in part, due to the perceived newness of game studies as a discipline and to a lack of critical historical analysis in the forma-tive years of the discipline. The goal of the book, then, is to provide an explication of key concepts in game history that furthers our historical understanding of games to move beyond “the blindly celebratory” or the “merely descriptive” to a more analyti-cal phase (p. xiii). In trying to achieve this goal, coeditors Henry Lowood and Raiford Guins bring together a broad, interdisci-plinary group of authors to examine forty-nine key terms relevant to game history. Though largely focused on issues related specifically to video games, the book seeks a broader stance.

Ellen Dissanayake is Affiliate Professor for the School of Music at the University of Washington. Her research investigates the aesthetics of art and examines the role it plays in the development of species and cultures around the world. Her publications include Art and Intimacy: How the Arts Began; Homo Aesthetics: Where Art Comes From and Why; and What Is Art For? She has also authored or coauthored more than a hundred book chapters and articles that have appeared in Darwin’s Bridge: Uniting the Sciences and Humanities; Art as Behavior: An Ethological Approach to Visual and Verbal Art, Music and Architecture; and Origins of Religion, Cognition and Culture, and other works.

Alexandra Katehakis is founder and clinical director of the Center for Healthy Sex in Los Angeles, California, and serves as Senior Fellow at The Meadows, Facility for the International Institute of Trauma and Addiction Professionals. She received the 2012 Carnes Award for her research in the field of sex addiction and recovery and is a contributing writer for Psychology Today, where she regularly posts on her blog “Sex, Lies & Trauma.” She is the author or coauthor of Sex Addition as Affect Dysregulation: A Neurobiologically Informed Holistic Treatment; Erotic Intelligence: Igniting Hot Healthy Sex While in Recovery from Sex Addition; Mirror of Intimacy: Daily Reflections on Emo-tional and Erotic Intelligence; and Making Advances: A Comprehensive Guide for Treating Female Sex and Love Addicts.

Terry Marks-Tarlow is a clinical and consulting psychologist in Santa Monica, Cali-fornia, and a faculty member at the Insight Center in Los Angeles. She also serves as cochair on the board of directors for the Los Angeles Country Psychological Associa-tion Community Outreach and works as a research associate at the Institute for Fractal Research in Kassel, Germany. Her areas of interest include the application of neuro-biological and nonlinear science to psychotherapy, creative blocks, self-expression and deep transformation, and the clinical interface between yoga and psychotherapy. She has lectured extensively and contributed to numerous journals. Her books include, among others, Awakening Clinical Intuition: An Experimental Workbook; Clinical Intuition in Psychotherapy; Psyche’s Veil: Psychotherapy, Fractals and Complexity; and Creativity Inside Out: Learning through Multiple Intelligences.

Yakov Shapiro is Clinical Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. He also serves as the university’s psychotherapy super-visor and director of the Integrated Psychotherapy/Psychopharmacology Service. His research on psychobiology and its approach to treating trauma, mood, and personality disorders has been presented at national and international conferences and his writing has appeared in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice; Psychoanalytic Dialogues; Journal of Physiology; and Ethics & Behavior. Joseph Fridman is professor and opera director at Alberta Music Academy in Edmonton. A concert pianist, vocal coach, and piano teacher, he has held teaching appointments at the Schools of Music for Gifted Children in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Kiev, Ukraine, as well as the Pskov Music College.

Larry Vandervert is the owner of American Nonlinear Systems and a retired Fellow of the American Psychological Association. His areas of expertise include the neuro-sciences, psychology, creativity, innovation, giftedness, and science, and his research investigates the role of the cerebellum in learning and in the development of culture. He is the author or coauthor of more than fifty book chapters and articles appearimng in Child Prodigies in Music; The Routledge International Handbook of Innovation Edu-cation; International Handbook on Giftedness; The Journal of Mind and Behavior; and Cerebellum & Ataxias.