Podcast: Is laughter unique to humans? No, other animals evolved the same play behavior. Here are some examples

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Credit: Imgflip
Credit: Imgflip

[HOST MICHAEL MARTIN:] It’s true, we all laugh. But is laughter, uniquely human? It turns out, not really. Plenty of research has been done on this. And [recently, a] study out of UCLA caught our attention. Researchers there found 65 different animal species that laugh in their own ways.

SASHA WINKLER: The main reason why you need play signals is that this helps disambiguate, saying this is play versus I’m actually biting you in the neck.

MARTIN: Sasha Winkler is a graduate student at UCLA and an author of the study. She uses the term play vocalizations to describe the sounds many animals do while they have a little fun. And, yeah, these sounds may not always sound exactly like laughter to us humans.

WINKLER: Some of them are described as chuckles or panting. But then there’s also a lot of species that do play squeals or whines or clicks. So there’s a whole diversity of sounds.

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[WINLKER:] There’s this long evolutionary history of vocalizing in play, which then our species evolution is like sort of built upon. I think we’re just beginning to give laughter a more serious scientific eye.

[Editor’s note: Listen to the podcast below to hear parrots, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans and rats laugh.] 

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