Friday, February 15, 2008

Do Animals Laugh?

Whether it's the youthful giggling of girls in the park or boisterous shouts of the crowd in a comedy show, we hear laughter every day. It's really nothing new to us humans. But what about animals? Are they capable of laughing? And if they do laugh, does it affect their overall behavior?

Some scientists believe that laughter is indeed present in animals. Studies on monkeys, rats and dogs, show that these creatures produce certain sounds that is indicative of laughter. Monkeys for example, make laughing-like noises when they play with each other and during interaction. Robert Provine, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, stated that laughter is literally the sound of play with the primal 'pant-pant'- the labored breathing of physical play - becoming the human 'ha-ha'. He agrees that laughter has its evolutionary continuity and that its origin is in rough-and-tumble play and tickling.

Speaking of tickling, laughing in rats was discovered using this method. Jaak Panksepp and his co-researchers from Bowling Green State University in Ohio observed that rats, when tickled, produce a high-pitched chirping sound. The said sound was recorded using a "bat detector," an instrument that register sounds inaudible to human ears. " Lo and behold ... it sounded like a playground," Panksepp said, adding that keeping rats laughing isn't difficult. He also stated that not only did the rats respond to the tickling, they also became bonded to them and soon after, reacted like that of a small child when tickled.

In the case of dogs, a long loud panting is said to be the version of their laughter. Animal Behaviorist, Patricia Simonet stated that this breathy exhalation sound is only observed during play but not on aggressive clashes and is also believed to have a calming or soothing effect on the behavior of other dogs. Simonet and her students started researching this dog sound by recording dogs at play. They isolated this distinctive exhalation believed to be laughter. She then contacted the researchers at the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service (SCRAPS) and asked if she could use the shelter dogs to examine the impact of dog laughter. Her proposal was granted and the said experiment was done. Findings show that when they played the regular panting of a dog over the loud speaker, the flock of dogs from the shelter kept on barking. But when they played the dog version of laughing, all 15 barking dogs went quiet within about a minute. Nancy Hill, director of (SCRAPS), said " It was a night-and-day difference " and added, " It was absolutely phenomenal."

Amid all these amazing observations, researchers from these three studies believe that some scientists are still skeptical of their work and disagree about their claims for human emotions on lower species. They all knew that people may find their "animal laughter" research hysterical, but they don't care since their only goal is to provide a detectable evidence of the biological origins of joy through laughter.

More about animal laughter here ...

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