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The ecology of role play: intentionality and cultural evolution

This study examines the evolutionary function of children’s pretence. The everyday, cultural environment that children engage with is of a highly complex structure. Human adaptation, thus, becomes, by analogy, an equally complex process that requires the development of life skills. Whilst in role play children engage in ‘mimesis’ and recreate the ecology of their world in order to gradually appropriate its structures. Role play enables them to create their group cultures, through which they communally explore and assign meaning to their worlds and themselves in it. The research took place in a Greek state school and employed participant and non-participant observation of the children’s role play sessions. The findings, grouped under four thematic categories, may reflect the players’ adaptation and evolutionary processes but also the expression of their deeply rooted, existential concerns at that particular stage of their development.