Psychologists Jessica Dillon, a fifth-year doctoral student, and Sandra Russ, a professor in psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, analyzed 14 play studies that Russ conducted from 1985 to 2008 and found data told a story contrary to common assumptions.
The findings, published in the Creativity Research Journal, found children's use of imagination in play and their overall comfort and engagement with play activities has increased over time. The results suggest children today express less negative feelings in play, and their capacity to express a wide range of positive emotions, to tell stories and to organize thoughts stayed consistent.
The researchers revisited the data on child play after a 2007 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics showed children played less.
The pretend play of children ages 6-10 was measured for comfort, imagination, the range and amount of positive to negative emotions used, and the quality of storytelling, by using Russ' Affect in Play Scale.
Russ said the consistency of having the same tool to measure play provided a unique opportunity to track changes in play.
"We were surprised that outside of imagination and comfort, play was consistent over time," Dillon said.