The Neuroscience of Play

Play is an activity that is engaged in for enjoyment and recreation, gives the animal intense satisfaction, and captures their total attention. Play has been shown to improve cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being. Its place within learning aids in the development of problem-solving skills, memory, and concentration. 
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From the human literature, we know there are 7 types of play that can accomplish various outcomes, such as attunement play which promotes emotional connection. For most animals, play is an effective tool of social bonding and reward. It can be an ultimate motivator in both sport and behavior training. However, it’s often overlooked in favor of other rewards such as food. So how do we know when to use it? Do all animals benefit from play? And could play be either unpleasant or coercive if used incorrectly?

Dr. Murphy will explore the neuroscience of play, and its impact on learning, memory, emotions, cognition, and wellbeing. We will delve into questions surrounding the use of play, how aspects of play affect the function and structure of various brain regions, and what the impact of those changes might be. Of course, we’ll look at how to use play to build that all-important mental resilience.

This is an online event. This webinar will be recorded. Anyone who purchases a ticket will receive a recording one week after the event date. You will be able to view the webinar even if you cannot join us on the live event date. The recording will be available for viewing for up to 12 months. This webinar will also be available for purchase on our website 3 weeks after the live event.

Meet the instructor

Dr. Kathy Murphy

Dr. Kathy Murphy (BVetMed, DPhil, CVA, CLAS, MRCVS) is a veterinary surgeon and neuroscientist. She graduated from the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons UK in 1999, initially working in mixed clinical practice before studying for two post graduate clinical qualifications with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, in Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia, and Laboratory Animal Science.

In 2009 she was awarded a highly prestigious Welcome Trust Research Training Fellowship to study for her PhD, in Behavioral Neuroscience, at The Queens College, University of Oxford, UK. She subsequently worked in the USA as Assistant Professor of Neuroscience and Anesthesiology at the Icahn School of Medicine NYC, where her research into the long term effects of anesthesia on learning and memory contributed to a change to the safety advice for the use of general anesthesia in children. She moved back to the UK in 2013, to take up clinical-academic positions at the University of Oxford and subsequently Newcastle University, and concurrently completed a Residency in Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia with the European College of Veterinary Anesthesia and Analgesia, during which she became increasingly interested in how pain re-models the nervous system and this can manifest as behavioral problems in pets.

Alongside these positions Dr. Murphy founded, and is now Director of, Barking Brains Ltd (a neuroscience outreach platform for the animal behavior and training community), which focuses on translating neuroscientific information into practical and useful information for people interested in animal behavior. In order to maximize the impact of her diverse interests and skill set, Dr. Murphy teamed up with Behavior Vets LLC in 2022 when she took up the position of Chief Scientific Officer. She is now able to focus on her new found passion for science communication and providing evidence based, up to date, accessible, scientific information to clinicians, animal professionals and their clients, about subjects related to pain, behavior, neurobiology and the many interrelated factors.

In addition to Dr, Murphy's primary career roles she was Trustee and Veterinary Advisor to the Rottweiler Welfare Association for 14 years; is co-founder of Ethics First (a collective which lobbies for ethical decision making in clinical practice); is an Oversight Committee Member for the UK Dog Behavior and Training Charter; sits on numerous National and International boards, working groups and ethical review panels; is an ad-hoc reviewer for neuroscience, veterinary medicine and anesthesia and pain journals; and continues to collaborate on research projects. Dr. Murphy lives in the UK with her husband Elliot (ex Search and Rescue handler and now scentwork and mantrailing trainer) and their 5 dogs: Dennis a Yorkshire Terrier mix, Nancy a Rottweiler mix, Zebedee and Nela the German Shorthaired Pointers and Albi a Weimaraner.
Patrick Jones - Course author