Learning & Behavior

, Volume 45, Issue 4, pp 422–431 | Cite as

Expanding the definitional criteria for imaginative play: Contributions of sociocultural perspectives



This article proposes expanding four existing criteria for imaginative play in view of recent advances in sociocultural perspectives on the study of human development. Imaginative play is commonly defined as intrinsically motivated, open ended, pleasure seeking, and an escape from reality. Grounded in sociocultural research, and, as such, in the relation between individual and social and cultural environment, we argue that these four criteria should shift from assumptions to research questions: What are the motives for imaginative play? What are the goals for imaginative play? What affective dimensions emerge in imaginative play? What, how, and why do features of reality and imagination emerge through play? Expanding definitional criteria in this fashion enables researchers to remain open to variations in an individual’s experience over time, across participants, and cultural variations rather than imposing dominant cultural assumptions as explanatory heuristics. Implications for research and education are discussed.


Imaginative play Sociocultural perspectives Culture and context 


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© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Illinois at ChicagoChicagoUSA
  2. 2.University of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada

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