You have probably heard that monkeys are some of our closest relatives – humans and monkeys share about 90% of their DNA! So do monkeys laugh as we do? Do any animals laugh?
Do monkeys laugh?
Monkeys do not laugh in a way that is recognized by humans. Sometimes, humans mistake a monkey “smiling” for laughter. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Old World monkeys have four basic facial expressions – neutral, threat, fear grin, and lip smack.
The one that confuses humans the most is the fear grin because it looks like they are smiling. This grin does not convey happiness though. Instead, it shows that the monkey is terrified. But even though monkeys, do not laugh, that does not mean that other primates don’t either!
Do other primates laugh?
While monkeys are part of the primate family, they are not part of the group of primates that are known as “great apes.” Great apes include gorillas, orangutans, bonobos, chimpanzees, and humans. And research has shown that all great apes do in fact laugh!
A 2009 study showed that all of our great ape relatives, including chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans, will produce a sound like laughter during certain instances! For example, these animals will all laugh when they are being ticked, as well as when they were playing with their fellow monkeys (such as during play wrestling or play chasing)!
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This study led scientists to believe that our humor and our ability to laugh both came from the last common ancestor of both humans and the other great apes. Another study was conducted in 2015 where scientists discovered that some primates, like chimpanzees, can make their “laugh faces” both when they are laughing out loud and when they are laughing silently.
This laughter in great apes has been observed in both wild and captive members of this family. The sound that great apes make when they laugh sounds a little different than the laughter of a human, but sonographically, they are similar.
When great apes laugh, the sound is made by alternating inhales and exhales and it sounds almost like panting or screeching. Experts believe that our laughs have evolved to sound different due to the adaptions that might have been made when humans developed spoken language.
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But when researchers analyzed the sound waves of a human infant’s laugh and the laugh of a great ape, the two laughs followed the same sonographic pattern.
During the above studies, scientists got samples of laughter from great apes by tickling them, and interestingly enough, they seem to have similar ticklish areas on their bodies (like their armpits and bellies) to where humans are ticklish!
Furthermore, researchers at the University of Portsmouth in England recorded colonies of captive chimpanzees over a period of multiple months. During this time, they captured 642 instances of laughter. Most of the time, these animals laughed spontaneously while playing, while there were also instances where they also laughed in response to their playmate’s laughter.
But when these animals laughed spontaneously, their laughter lasted about five times longer than when they were laughing in response to another chimp’s laughter. These researchers found that laughter seemed to prolong playtime, which helps primates create social bonds.
These researchers also discovered that chimps used laughter as a “social lubricant,” which is something that humans also do. This is what we do when we laugh and try to smooth over an awkward moment.
What other animals laugh?
Besides great apes, do any other animals laugh? Recent research has shown that dogs and rats both laugh! Neither dogs nor rats laugh in a way that is similar to a human laugh, but both of these species have been observed emitting a unique sound in response to pleasure.
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In 2001, an animal behaviorist discovered that dogs make a sound exclusively in play. This sound was documented as “forced, breathy exhalation.” So when dogs are having a fun time playing, they create this sound that serves as laughter for them!
Rats have their own way to giggle. It has been observed that when baby rats are tickled, they will release a special chirp sound, which is their version of a laugh. Rats will also make this chirping sound when they are playing with other rats.