Having A Laugh

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Prepare to have some of your most cherished illusions destroyed:

Tierisch komisch? Was das #Lachen der #Tiere wirklich bedeutet http://t.co/0dpFghzK



“What the laughter of animals really means,” it says there. The smiles, too – like what we always see on dolphins, for example, and if you click through to the Rheinische Post article you are rewarded right there at the top with one smiling right at you and his (?) buddy not far behind.

The thing is: they’re not smiling at you; they always look that way, even when they are asleep, since as the author Jörg Zittlau explains, they “can’t do anything but grin, since their muscles don’t [really] enable any sophisticated mimicry.” Not even chimpanzees, when they seem to crack up over something, are really in a comic mood. Rather, Zittlau explains, it’s more likely that they’re agitated, even stressed-out. Yes, chimpanzees (unlike most animals) are capable of laughter, but it’s not what you would expect. As Zittlau quotes psychologist Robert Provine, “The chimpanzee’s laughter is more a gutteral grunt.”

What about Fido – you know that he laughs, you’ve heard him yourself, right? Well, yes and no: again, dogs do seem capable of laughter, but not in the form you would expect. “It sounds to an untrained human ear merely like the usual dog-panting,” says this time one Patricia Simonet from Sierra Nevada College, and it usually occurs – as you would expect – when the dog is at play.

Oh, and “laughing” hyenas? Sorry: that “laughing” is more often an expression of frustration, when it is not being used (by means of its specific frequency and tone) to confirm the animal’s place in the pack pecking-order.

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