Laughter in animals

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An orangutan "laughing"

Laughter in animals other than humans describes animal behavior which resembles human laughter.

Several non-human species demonstrate vocalizations that to humans, sound similar to human laughter. A significant proportion of these are mammals, including apes, which suggests that the neurological functions occurred early in the process of mammalian evolution.[1]


Chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans show laughter-like vocalizations in response to physical contact such as wrestling, play chasing or tickling. This is documented in wild and captive chimpanzees. Chimpanzee laughter is not readily recognizable to humans as such, because it is generated by alternating inhalations and exhalations that sound more like breathing and panting.[citation needed] It sounds similar to screeching. The differences between chimpanzee and human laughter may be the result of adaptations that have evolved to enable human speech. One study[citation needed] analyzed sounds made by human babies and bonobos when tickled. It found that although the bonobo’s laugh was a higher frequency, the laugh followed the same sonographic pattern of human babies to include as similar facial expressions. Humans and chimpanzees share similar ticklish areas of the body such as the armpits and belly.

Research has noted the similarity in forms of laughter among humans and apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans) when tickled, suggesting that laughter derived from a common origin among primate species, and therefore evolved prior to the origin of humans.[2][3]


Brown rats emit 50-kHz calls during rough and tumble play, and when tickled.

Rats emit long, 50-kHz ultrasonic calls that are induced during rough and tumble play, and when tickled by humans. The vocalization is described as distinct "chirping". Like humans, rats have "tickle skin", areas of the body that generate greater laughter responses than others. Rats that laugh the most also play the most and prefer to spend more time with other laughing rats. It has been reported that there is no decline in the tendency to laugh and respond to tickle skin as rats age, however, it has also been reported that in females, brain maturation after puberty appears to redefine tickling as aversive, leading to avoidance rather than appetitive responses.[4] Further studies show that rats chirp when wrestling one another, before receiving morphine, or when mating. The sound has been interpreted as an expectation of something rewarding.[5] High frequency ultrasonic vocalizations are important in rat communication and function to elicit approach behavior in the recipient.[6]

The initial goal of research by Jaak Panksepp and Jeff Burgdorf was to track the biological origins of how the brain processes emotions and social behavior. They compared rat vocalizations during social interactions to the joy and laughter commonly experienced by children in social play. They concluded that the 50-kHz rat vocalizations might reflect positive affective states (feelings or emotions), analogous to those experienced by children laughing during social play.[7]

More recent studies have investigated the emotional states of rats after being tickled. An animal's optimism or pessimism can be assessed by cognitive bias studies. After being tickled, rats are more optimistic, indicating the interaction invokes a positive affective state.[8] Furthermore, rats self-administer playback of the 50-kHz trill calls and avoid playback of 22-kHz calls.[9]

When rats are given naloxone (an opioid antagonist), tickling no longer evokes the 50-kHz vocalisation which indicates that the rewarding properties of tickling are modulated by endogenous opioids.


Dogs sometimes pant in a manner that sounds like a human laugh. By analyzing the pant using a sonograph, this pant varies with bursts of frequencies. When this vocalization is played to dogs in a shelter setting, it can initiate play, promote pro-social behavior, and decrease stress levels. One study compared the behaviour of 120 dogs with and without exposure to a recorded "dog-laugh". Playback reduced stress-related behaviors, increased tail wagging, the display of a "play-face" when playing was initiated, and pro-social behavior such as approaching and lip licking.[10]


Laughing kookaburras of Australia are well known for their call which resembles human laughter, however, the function is territorial. One bird starts with a low, hiccuping chuckle, then throws its head back in raucous laughter: often several others join in. If a rival tribe is within earshot and replies, the whole family soon gathers to fill the bush with ringing laughter. Hearing kookaburras in full voice is one of the more extraordinary experiences of the Australian bush, something even locals cannot ignore; some visitors, unless forewarned, may find their calls startling.[11]


  1. Panksepp, J. (2000). "The riddle of laughter neural and psychoevolutionary underpinnings of joy". Current Directions in Psychological Science. 9 (6). doi:10.1111/1467-8721.00090.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Tickled apes yield laughter clue", BBC, June 4, 2009
  3. Reconstructing the evolution of laughter in great apes and humans. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2009.05.028
  4. Paredes-Ramos, P.; Miquel, M.; Manzo, J.; Pfaus, J.G.; López-Meraz, M.L.; Coria-Avila, G.A. (2012). "Tickling in juvenile but not adult female rats conditions sexual partner preference". Physiology & Behavior. 107 (1): 17–25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Science News 2001 - requires signup
  6. Wöhr, M.; Schwarting, R.K. (2007). "Ultrasonic communication in rats: Can playback of 50-kHz calls induce approach behavior?". PloS ONE. 2 (12): e1365.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Panksepp, J.; Burgdorf, J. (2003). ""Laughing" rats and the evolutionary antecedents of human joy?" (PDF). Physiology & Behavior. 79 (3): 533–547.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Rygula, R.; Pluta, H.; Popik, P. (2012). "Laughing rats are optimistic". PLoS ONE. 7 (12): e51959.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Burgdorf, J.; Kroes, R.A.; Moskal, J.R.; Pfaus, J.G.; Brudzynski, S.M.; Panksepp, J. (2008). "Ultrasonic vocalizations of rats (Rattus norvegicus) during mating, play, and aggression: Behavioral concomitants, relationship to reward, and self-administration of playback". Journal of Comparative Psychology. 122 (4): 357.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Simonet, P., Versteeg, D. and Storie, D. (2005). "Dog-laughter: Recorded playback reduces stress related behavior in shelter dogs" (PDF). Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Environmental Enrichment.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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