Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education in Recreation and Sport Management (EdD)

Degree Level



Health, Human Performance and Recreation


Merry Moiseichik

Committee Member

Margaret F. Reid

Second Committee Member

Gregory M. Benton

Third Committee Member

Angela Smith-Nix


Social sciences, Adult play, Reversal theory


Play is important to adults' mental creativity and happiness (Marano, 1999), and stress reduction (Apter, 2009a; Baptiste, 1995). Yet play may be considered as trivial behavior that is not appropriate for the adult population. The purpose of the study was to examine how adults describe the concept of play and to determine whether this description reflects their dominant metamotivational state. According to reversal theory, these states are the frames of mind that characterize an individual's motivation at any given point in time (Apter, 1982). An individual tends to be in a more playful (paratelic) state or serious-minded (telic) state depending upon the circumstances at any particular moment.

One hundred fifty-six adults between 40 and 65 years of age (Mage = 51.8) participated in the study. Data collection was accomplished entirely online through the Paratelic Dominance Scale and the submission of written narratives describing the meaning of a memorable episode of play in participants' own words. A new instrument developed for this study intended to quantify the words used to describe play found no correlation between an individual's dominant motivational state and the words that they use to describe play (r = -.024, p = .85) . However, several themes emerged from the written narratives including play as: fun, relaxation, being in the moment, along with goal-oriented play. These themes supported previous research findings (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975; Jackson, 1995; Stebbins, 2007; Yarnal et al., 2008)

The current study demonstrated that examining the words people use to describe play is not enough to understand the meaning that play has for them. Understanding one's tendency to be paratelic or telic is useful in the sense that the value of play is revealed to the individual, but it is equally important to understand that this view depends on the situation at the time of its occurrence. While a relationship was not found, it did provide valuable insight into how play was viewed by the adults who participated in the study. Understanding the complexity with which adults view play may help practitioners in the field with the provision of programs and services for this age group.