Social play, a widespread phenomenon in mammals, is a multifunctional behavior, which can have many different roles according to species, sex, age, relationship quality between playmates, group membership, context, and habitat. Play joins and cuts across a variety of disciplines leading directly to inquiries relating to individual developmental changes and species adaptation, thus the importance of comparative studies appears evident. Here, we aim at proposing a possible ontogenetic pathway of chimpanzee play (Pan troglodytes) and contrast our data with those of human play. Chimpanzee play shows a number of changes from infancy to juvenility. Particularly, solitary and social play follows different developmental trajectories. While solitary play peaks in infancy, social play does not show any quantitative variation between infancy and juvenility but shows a strong qualitative variation in complexity, asymmetry, and playmate choice. Like laughter in humans, the playful expressions in chimpanzees (at the different age phases) seem to have a role in advertising cooperative dispositions and intentions thus increasing the likelihood of engaging in solid social relationships. In conclusion, in chimpanzees, as in humans, both play behavior and the signals that accompany play serve multiple functions according to the different age phases.
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