Show Details

Animal Laughter

September 20, 2005

People laugh in many different ways. But can animals laugh at all? Science Reporter Bob Hirshon answers this listener question.


Can a chimp chuckle? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

This Why Is It question comes from P.K. Kanakaratna of Betheda, Maryland, who asks why animals don’t laugh like humans. We asked Robert Provine at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who told us that most mammals do laugh. They just sound different than humans do, because they have different vocal apparatus.

ROBERT PROVINE (University of Maryland, Baltimore County):
We laugh by chopping an outward breath: ha ha ha ha. Chimpanzees, for example, laugh by producing a panting sound whereby there’s one sound made per inward and outward breath. [imitates chimpanzee laughter]

And he says even mice [correction: rats] make ultrasonic giggles when tickled.

Call us at 1-800-why-isit with your science question. If we use it on the air, you’ll get a Science Update mug. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.