Play Is the Highest Form of Research

Albert Einstein? Neville V. Scarfe? Anonymous?

playing12Dear Quote Investigator: A marvelous quotation about play is attributed to the most brilliant scientist of the modern age, Albert Einstein:

Play is the highest form of research.

I would like to include this statement in a paper I am writing, but I have not been able to find a good citation. Sadly, quotations misattributed to Einstein are very common, and I fear that this may be another example. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein made this statement. The following nearly identical remark appeared in a section called “Probably Not By Einstein” within the comprehensive reference “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein” from Princeton University Press: 1

Playing is the highest form of research.

QI believes that he has located the most likely origin of this popular misattribution to Einstein. In 1962 the journal “Childhood Education” published an article titled “Play is Education” by N. V. Scarfe that contained the following passage: 2

All play is associated with intense thought activity and rapid intellectual growth.

The highest form of research is essentially play. Einstein is quoted as saying, “The desire to arrive finally at logically connected concepts is the emotional basis of a vague play with basic ideas. This combinatory or associative play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought”

The careful reader will note that the quotation credited to Einstein was placed after his name and not before. The phrase “The highest form of research is essentially play” was not attributed to Einstein; those words should properly be credited to N. V. Scarfe who wrote the article.

One important mechanism for the generation of misattributions is based on the misreading of neighboring expressions. A reader sometimes inadvertently transfers the ascription of one statement to a contiguous statement. QI conjectures that the words of Scarfe have been re-ordered and reassigned to Einstein to yield the common quotation under investigation. This may have occurred through a multi-step process.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Play Is the Highest Form of Research


  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not by Einstein, Page 482, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1962 November, Childhood Education, Volume 39, Issue 3, “Play is Education” by N. V. Scarfe, Start Page 117, Quote Page 120, Published Association for Childhood Education International, Washington D.C. (Verified with scans; thanks to Jacksonville, Florida public library)