The evolutionary psychologist, Geoffrey Miller, has published many papers speculating about the development of human creativity – that is, why would we evolve in such a way that we create apparently wasteful artefacts such as art, poetry, humour and music? According to Miller it is all about the Mating Mind – it’s peacock feathers and courtship or as John Keating in Dead Poets Society says, it is “to woo women.”
Now a new study suggests it might not be about sex at all. Or at least not all about sex. Research (pdf) published in the International Journal of Tourism Anthropology (yes, really), suggests that Disneyland, as the epitome of popular culture, storytelling, music and dance, tells us all sorts of things about entertainment, and it has nothing to do with woo-ing. Unless you have a thing for mice.
The paper proposes that rather than being about courtship, the creative aspects of the human brain and the behaviour they provoke is all about passing on information between generations; it is how parents play with their children, how society bonds and how it develops communally. “The brain circuitry involved in both the generation of, and response to, these traits was selected for because it enabled parents to increase their fitness by increasing their ability to influence their offspring” say the authors Craig Palmer of the University of Missouri, Columbia, and Kathryn Coe of the University of Arizona.
This idea of entertaining culture being part of child development ties in with the idea that play is part of a training ground for adaptability more than more obvious role-playing. In his book The Ambiguity of Play, play theorist, Brian Sutton-Smith argues that the dynamics of play mirror the biological processes that lead to adaptive variability, that is, play is characterised by quirkiness, unpredictability and redundancy.
By linking family behaviour with the activities associated with these theme parks, Palmer and Coe are connecting community bonding with play and reiterating the importance of shared parent-child amusement. Maybe going to the Magic Kingdom is more like entering the Magic Circle afterall.