Do Animals Have A Sense Of Humor?

Do animals have a sense of humor?

Laughing is a vital action for health. It is by laughing that people can release tension, reduce our discomfort and get rid of the stress of everyday life. That is, humor is a protective factor against psychopathology.

It has been seen that humans are not the only ones who laugh. Animals such as dogs, foxes, chimpanzees, gorillas, rats and many others also laugh, which has sparked the interest of many sciences to find an explanation.

Knowing that these and other species laugh, a question arises: Do animals have a sense of humor? Below we will see what science has discovered and what the current state of this matter is.

Do animals have a sense of humor?

Laughing is an extremely healthy activity. Through laughter we can free ourselves from all types of negative feelings that can end up becoming 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 that closely resemble what we understand as laughter have been found, especially in animals that are closely related phylogenetically to ours, such as higher primates (bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans…), in addition of dogs, foxes and rats.

On many occasions, humans laugh when we hear a joke, see a funny situation like when someone slips on a banana peel, or find ourselves faced with a curious situation. That is, we laugh because we have a sense of humor and, given that laughter has also been seen in other species, it is inevitable to wonder if dogs, higher primates and rats have this sense of humor.

There are many investigations that have tried to answer this mystery, focusing, logically, on primates However, it must be said that addressing this question scientifically is quite complicated because… what is a sense of humor? Each person has a different sense of humor, easily demonstrable considering that there are those who laugh at nothing and those who laugh at nothing. How can we see in other animals what we don’t even know what it is in ourselves?

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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 Various investigations have been carried out with the intention of delving deeper into this aspect, based on various theories from psychology and philosophy.

Incongruity theory

Among the theories about humor, the best known is the “incongruity theory of humor.” This theory indicates that humor occurs when an inconsistency arises between what one expects to happen and what actually happens.

Our brain tries to do predictions of how a situation will play out or how a conversation will end It is for this reason that when we see something funny and unexpected or when they tell us a joke we laugh, since we did not see it coming.

The theory of incongruity does not rule out the possibility that animals have a sense of humor, but it does It is rejected that those animals that do not have a brain that can minimally house the capacity for language can have it 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.

Benign rape theory

In addition to the humor incongruity theory, the benign violation theory has been proposed to explain this phenomenon. Truly controversial in name, this theory maintains that humor arises in situations in which the person’s well-being, identity, or normative belief system is threatened but at the same time it seems to be good and one agrees with it.

The theory of benign violation arises as an alternative to that of humor incongruity, 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 incongruous situations that are not fun for everyone.

The Benign Rape Theory would allow a deeper understanding of tickling These appear when someone benignly infringes our physical space, touching various parts of our body. We didn’t expect this touch, which surprises us and we start laughing.

If we try to tickle ourselves this will not work because there will be no surprise and if we tickle someone we do not know on the street, far from laughing, they will get angry, since they will not see this as a benign act but rather as an attack or, at the very least, some type of abuse.

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Next we are going to look in more depth 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 more than 1,000 signs in American Sign Language, in addition to understanding more than 2,000 words in spoken English. This gorilla was the subject of numerous studies, given that as a subject it was truly a gem in the rough: it 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 her trainer, Dr. Francine Patterson. In addition to communicating, this gorilla signed with humorous intent, playing with different meanings of the same word and understanding the antics that her caregivers did.

An anecdote about this gorilla, told by the researchers who cared for her, is that once Koko signed the word “chase” after tying his trainers’ laces laughing out loud.

The exact reason for this is unknown, but it is assumed that she either suggested that they chase her and that, having her shoelaces tied poorly, Her coaches would trip and she would laugh or just play around changing the words knowing that that was not the word he should use to refer to “tying the shoelaces.”

The latter can be related to how five-year-old children behave, who are increasingly aware of language and its use for humorous purposes. There are many children at this age who, despite not having intellectual development problems or pronunciation problems, use other words to refer to things (symbolic play) or directly invent them, sometimes with the intention of confusing the naive. 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 conducted by members of the Regional Animal Protective Services in Spokane County, Washington, USA studied the growling of dogs at the shelter when they were playing. The caregivers thought they were hearing sounds similar to laughter with which they began to study them more thoroughly by recording them.

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Taking into account that dogs made these growls 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. It is for this reason that they wanted to find out how the dogs would react if they heard them without playing, so they decided to broadcast them through the shelter’s speakers. To their surprise, they saw that the dogs calmed down, wagged their tails, showed a certain playful air and It seemed that, instead of being confined in a kennel, they were having a good time in a comedy club

3. Washoe, the chimpanzee who made jokes

It has been seen that animals raised in captivity, especially primates, can behave in a provocative way to have fun. 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, becoming one of the first primates to show advanced language skills. It is because she knew how to speak that her caregiver, Roger Fouts, can tell us a curious anecdote about the chimpanzee

Fouts was with Washoe one day, holding her on his shoulders, when he suddenly began to notice the warm flow of ape urine. Indeed, Washoe had just peed on him, something that no researcher, no matter how fond of monkeys, likes.

Roger looked up with a certain annoyance to tell Washoe that she had peed on him when, to his surprise, he saw that the chimpanzee was trying to say something to him. At that moment he signed the word “fun”: Washoe had purposely peed himself, Fouts being the victim of a prank

This somewhat scatological anecdote is considered proof that chimpanzees can have a sense of humor. Washoe behaved like this to annoy his caretaker, 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 having fun. Of course, primates have a sense of humor that humans don’t share.