November 20 2021

What is “Fun”? (According to Science)

How do we define fun?

Do you think of bouncy castles, marbles and stick fights?

Or perhaps playing games on your phone or watching Netflix?

Although we might not be able to agree on a single definition of Fun for all people everywhere, there is no denying that it can and does affect our lives in great and small ways. It’s important to know what science says about the concept of fun so we can better understand how our minds react to certain stimuli. In this article, we’ll explore some interesting concepts related to the idea of “fun”, as well as offer some tips on having more fun!

The Concept of Fun: What is Fun?

What is the best way to define fun? How can we even begin to accurately define this abstract concept?

In a fascinating TED-Ed video called “The neuroscience of fun“, Dr. Philip Robbins gives us some insight into how science has tried to answer this question. In the video, he discusses an experiment where children were given two toys, both fun in their own right (in other words, each toy could be considered an example of ‘fun’). It was found that while children preferred playing with one specific toy all the time, they also enjoyed switching it up and playing with the other toy every now and then. This proves that while people tend to like certain things more than others, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t still capable of finding pleasure in things outside their “favorite” activity.

However, the actual definition of what ‘fun’ is has evolved over time and varies greatly by person. Dr. Robbins goes on to discuss how each person’s concept of fun might be rooted in how our brains react to dopamine, which can be thought of as a neurotransmitter (a brain chemical involved in transmitting nerve impulses). He explains that during moments when we’re excited about something (such as playing with an enjoyable toy or watching an exciting movie), dopamine will be released into our brains; afterward, if we think back on the experience, memories related to those events become linked together with feelings of happiness. Dopamine’s release is not a conscious process, which means that we don’t have to think about playing with a favorite toy in order for the brain to produce dopamine related to doing so.

When we experience something positive our brains will seek another chance to feel that way again in the future, and this is where fun takes shape. In essence, when we enjoy something it becomes ‘fun’ because of the rewarding feelings associated with it… over time these good feelings become embedded in how we perceive an activity (i.e., “I like playing Pokemon Go” or “I like watching TV”). This explains why some people seem more inclined than others to find pleasure in certain things; perhaps they subconsciously enjoy the good feelings associated with engaging in a certain activity and thus seek out more chances to feel that way. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call ‘fun’.

An Estonian iGaming company called Nutz for example has a slogan called: “Fun is not a matter of luck!”

So does this mean that all forms of fun are inherently equal? Well… not exactly. While dopamine is important in the process of why something becomes enjoyable, it doesn’t explain everything there is about having fun; in fact, according to research, different types of “fun” can activate different parts of the brain! Furthermore, you might’ve noticed by now that we made mentioned earlier how our brains like to link memories (and consequently emotions) with activities or events — well it turns out there’s a reason for that, too.

On a subconscious level, our brains are quick to attach memories with good emotions because associating something pleasant with what’s currently happening encourages us to continue engaging in that activity or event. In other words, if we remember enjoying playing video games the last time we played them then our brains might want us to play more of them in order for another dose of dopamine.

This is why it’s so easy for people to get caught up in the habit of “retro gaming”; even though they aren’t getting as much enjoyment out of playing old games as they would by experiencing all-new ones, their brain still longs for dopamine by attempting to link retro games with past feelings of ‘fun’.


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