Do animals have a sense of humor?
Let's see what science has discovered about whether animals have a true sense of humor.
Laughing is a vital health action. It is by laughing that people can release tension, reduce our discomfort and get rid of the stress of everyday life. In other words, humor is a protective factor against psychopathology.
It has been shown that humans are not the only ones who laugh. Animals such as dogs, foxes, chimpanzees, gorillas, rats and many others also laugh, which has aroused the interest of many sciences to find an explanation.
Knowing that these and other species laugh raises a question: Do animals have a sense of humor? Below we will see what science has discovered and how the current state of this question is.
Do animals have a sense of humor?
Laughing is an extremely healthy activity. Through laughter we can free ourselves from all kinds of negative feelings that can end up turning into psychopathology. It is for this reason that, in the context of therapy, the sense of humor becomes a highly valued aspect in the patient, since it acts as a protective factor and can also be used to give rise to treatments such as laughter therapy.
But laughing is not only human. In other species, behaviors have been found that are very similar to what we understand as laughter, especially in animals that are phylogenetically closely related to ours, such as higher primates (bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans...), as well as dogs, foxes and rats.
On many occasions we humans laugh when we hear a joke, see a funny situation such as someone slipping on a banana skin, or find ourselves in a curious situation. In other words, we laugh because we have a sense of humor and, given that laughter has also been observed in other species, it is inevitable to wonder whether dogs, higher primates and rats possess this sense of humor.
There is no shortage of research that has tried to answer this question, focusing, logically, on primates.. However, it must be said that scientifically addressing this question is rather complicated because... what is a sense of humor? what is a sense of humor? Each person has a different sense of humor, easily demonstrable considering that there are those who laugh for nothing and those who laugh at nothing. How can we see in other animals what we do not even know what it is in ourselves?
Starting from different definitions and evaluating it in different ways, everything seems to indicate that, indeed, animals, although not all, can have a sense of humor, everything seems to indicate that animals, though not all, can indeed have a sense of humor.. Several investigations have been carried out with the intention of going deeper into this aspect, starting from several theories coming from psychology and philosophy.
Among the theories on humor, the best known is the "incongruity theory of humor". This theory states that humor occurs when an inconsistency arises between what one expects to happen and what actually happens.
Our brain tries to make predictions of how a situation will turn out or how a conversation will end.. It is for this reason that when we see something funny and unexpected or when we are told a joke we laugh, since we did not see it coming.
The theory of incongruence does not rule out the possibility of animals having a sense of humor, but it does that animals that do not possess a brain that can minimally accommodate the capacity for language can have a sense of humor.. Most animals lack cognitive mechanisms and neurological networks to identify inconsistencies, so, assuming that humor is an incongruity, they cannot have it. The only animals that could have it are primates.
- You may be interested in "Primatology: what it is, what it studies, and how it is researched".
Benign rape theory
In addition to the humor incongruence theory, the benign rape theory has been proposed in order to explain this phenomenon. Truly controversial in name, this theory holds that humor arises in situations where the person's well-being, identity, or normative belief system is threatened, but at the same time appears to be okay and agreed upon.The theory of benign violation arises as an alternative to that of mood incongruence.
The benign violation theory arises as an alternative to the incongruity theory of humor, since the latter does not explain why situations in which there is no incongruity, such as listening to a joke with predictable phrases, are funny while there are also incongruent situations that are not funny to everyone.
The theory of benign rape would allow a deeper understanding of tickling.. Tickling occurs when someone benignly violates our physical space by touching various parts of our body. We did not expect this touch, which surprises us and we start to laugh.
If we try to tickle ourselves this will not work because there will be no surprise and if we tickle someone we don't know on the street, far from laughing, they will be angry, as they will not see this as a benign act but rather as an attack or, at the very least, some kind of abuse.
We will now take a closer look at research that has evaluated whether animals can have a sense of humor.
1. Koko the gorilla
Koko the gorilla (1971-2018) was a very famous primate known for being able to make and understand over 1,000 signs in American Sign Language, in addition to understanding over 2,000 words in spoken English. in spoken English. This gorilla was the subject of numerous studies, since as a subject she was truly a jewel in the rough: she allowed us to study very human aspects in animals that, until relatively recently, the only thing they seemed to share with our species was their anthropomorphic form.
It is known that Koko used language very intelligently, demonstrating it to his adolescent.She demonstrated this to her trainer Dr. Francine Patterson. In addition to communicating, this gorilla used to sign with humorous intent, playing with different meanings of the same word and understanding the antics of her handlers.
An anecdote about this gorilla, told by the researchers who cared for her, is that one time Koko signed the word "chase" after tying her trainers' shoelaces, laughing with laughter.laughing out loud.
The exact reason for this is unknown, but it is assumed that she was either suggesting that she was being chased and that, by having her shoelaces tied incorrectly, she was being chased, her trainers would stumble and she would have a few laughs, or she would just play around changing the words, knowing that it wasn't the word she was supposed to use for "lacing up.knowing that was not the word she was supposed to use for "tying shoelaces".
The latter can be related to how five-year-olds behave, who are increasingly aware of language and its use for humorous purposes. There are quite a few children at this age who, despite having no intellectual development or pronunciation problems, use other words to refer to things (symbolic play) or make them up, sometimes with the intention of confusing naïve adults.
2. The dogs of Spokane
While it was a surprise to find a sense of humor in primates, it was even more surprising to find it in man's best friend: the dog. A study carried out by members of the Spokane County Regional Animal Protective Services, Washington, USA, found that dogs have a sense of humor. studied the growls of the dogs in the shelter when they were playing. The caretakers seemed to be hearing sounds similar to laughter, so they began to study them further by recording them.They began to study them further by recording them.
Considering that the dogs made these grunts when they were having a good time, the researchers wanted to know to what extent they could be considered an indication of a sense of humor. That's why they wanted to find out how the dogs would react if they heard them when they weren't playing, so they decided to broadcast them over the shelter's loudspeakers. To their surprise, they found that the dogs calmed down, wagged their tails, showed a certain playful air and instead of being confined to a kennel, they seemed to be having a good time at a comedy club..
3. Washoe, the chimpanzee who played pranks
It has been shown that captive-bred animals, especially primates, can behave provocatively in order to have a good time. An example of this is the case of another famous primate, the chimpanzee Washoe (1965-2007).
As with Koko the gorilla, Washoe learned American Sign Language, making her one of the first primates to show advanced linguistic skills. It is thanks to her ability to speak that her caretaker, Roger Fouts, can tell us a curious anecdote about the chimpanzee.
Fouts was one day with Washoe, holding her on his shoulders when, suddenly, he began to notice the warm flow of simian urine. Indeed, Washoe had just peed on him, something no researcher, no matter how fond of apes, likes to do.
Roger looked up angrily to tell Washoe that he had peed on him when, to his surprise, he saw the chimp trying to tell him something. At that moment he signed the word "funny" to him: Washoe had peed on purpose, Fouts being the victim of a joke..
This somewhat scatological anecdote is considered proof that chimpanzees can have a sense of humor. Washoe behaved in this way to annoy his keeper, with the clear intention of having fun at the expense of Roger Fouts' hygiene. It is not that the chimpanzee could not control herself or was not trained to urinate in a specific place, but that she decided to urinate on her caregiver with the intention of amusing herself. Of course, primates have a sense of humor that we humans do not share.
- McGhee, P. (2018). Chimpanzee and gorilla humor: progressive emergence from origins in the wild to captivity to sign language learning, HUMOR, 31(2), 405-449. doi: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2018-0017
- Weems, S. (2014). Ha!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why. United States. Basic Books.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)