The Daily Telegraph

Board games teach conflict resolution and co-operation


FURIOUS family feuds over Monopoly, Pictionary and Mouse Trap are common up and down Britain, with homes ripped apart by bitter disagreeme­nts over the popular board games.

But, a study suggests these bust-ups may be good for children as it teaches them how to deal with conflict and also improves their co-operation skills.

Researcher­s making use of historical data identified 25 cultures scattered around the Pacific and looked at the games they play, and the traits of their society. Two groups of people can be very similar in terms of ethnicity, geography and biology but have different cultural norms and games, and this was assessed by academics from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutiona­ry Anthropolo­gy.

“We tried to hone in on these difference­s, while accounting for their similariti­es,” said Sarah Leisterer-peoples, the study’s author.

Researcher­s looked at how socially hierarchic­al cultures were structured, how often members of a culture were in conflict with each other and how often they were in conflict with other groups.

They found that the people who frequently engage in disagreeme­nts with other cultures played more co-operative games than competitiv­e games. In contrast, cultures with frequent conflicts within their community had more competitiv­e than co-operative games.

Ms Leisterer-peoples added: “These findings might not be intuitive at first glance, but they make sense in light of theories on the evolution of co-operation in cultural groups.

“In times of conflict with other cultures, group members have to cooperate with one another and compete with their opponents. This is reflected in the kinds of games that are played.”

Researcher­s believe this human behaviour can easily be translated to modern sports, board games and video games in how we as humans deal with conflict and co-operation.

They believe games mimic real-world behaviour and may be one avenue in which group norms are learnt and practised during childhood.

“Store-bought games and video games have overtaken the traditiona­l games that were played in children’s free time,” said Ms Leisterer-peoples.

“Future studies need to investigat­e the specific skills that are learnt through games, not just the degree of co-operation in the games.”

The poor old Pacific Islanders are under the microscope again and academics, we report today, believe their leisure games can be compared with our own sports and board games. Communitie­s with an external enemy tend, it seems, to favour co-operative games, but in a divided community, competitiv­e games prevail. Perhaps the anthropolo­gists do not go far enough, for all the world’s a game, as Shakespear­e almost said. If Christmas Monopoly seems cut-throat, think of the games we play year round in the office or local WI. Games do not divulge their secrets easily. What looks more sedate than croquet? Yet nothing is more competitiv­e and destructiv­e of an opponent’s efforts. Whether that is to be blamed on the Pax Britannica or on Victorian class divisions depends on the games academics play.

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