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Contagious Parrot Laughter

March 21, 2017

Rare New Zealand parrots start playing spontaneously when they hear certain calls.


Two juvenile kea tussle on ground Raoul Schwing

Naturally playful, two juvenile kea parrots tussle on the ground. (Raoul Schwing)


Infectious bird calls. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

(Kea play calls)

Is this the sound of baby conversation? Chipmunks who huffed some helium? Wrong and Wrong. These are the laugh-like calls of kea parrots from New Zealand. And according to a study in Current Biology, just playing recordings of these calls provokes playfulness in other keas.

juvenile kea Raoul Schwing

A juvenile kea in flight. (Raoul Schwing)


RAOUL SCHWING (Messerli Institute of Research, Austria):

And in many cases the birds would perk up and immediately start playing with the bird that was next to them or take off and start playing in the air. And laughter in human beings has a very similar effect because hearing people laugh boosts our own emotion and makes things seem funnier.


That’s Messerli Research Institute animal behaviorist Raoul Schwing, who adds that studying contagious laughter in animals could help researchers understand the evolutionary roots of play in humans. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Susanne Bard