Image: Dog in woods
David Bolton  /  Morguefile.com
Scientists suspect that the panting behavior exhibited by dogs during "play chasing" is an analog for human laughter.
By Senior writer
updated 3/31/2005 5:01:12 PM ET 2005-03-31T22:01:12

Life can be funny, and not just for humans.

Studies by various groups suggest monkeys, dogs and even rats love a good laugh. People, meanwhile, have been laughing since before they could talk.

"Indeed, neural circuits for laughter exist in very ancient regions of the brain, and ancestral forms of play and laughter existed in other animals eons before we humans came along with our 'ha-ha-has' and verbal repartee," says Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist at Bowling Green State University.

When chimps play and chase each other, they pant in a manner that is strikingly like human laughter, Panksepp writes in Friday's issue of the journal Science. Dogs have a similar response.

Rats chirp while they play, again in a way that resembles our giggles. Panksepp found in a previous study that when rats are playfully tickled, they chirp and bond socially with their human tickler. And they seem to like it, seeking to be tickled more. Apparently joyful rats also preferred to hang out with other chirpers.

The first laugh
Laughter in humans starts young, another clue that it's a deep-seated brain function.

"Young children, whose semantic sense of humor is marginal, laugh and shriek abundantly in the midst of their other rough-and-tumble activities," Panksepp notes.

Importantly, various recent studies on the topic suggest that laughter in animals typically involves similar play chasing. It could be that verbal jokes tickle ancient, playful circuits in our brains.

More study is needed to figure out whether animals are really laughing. The results could explain why humans like to joke around. And Panksepp speculates it might even lead to the development of treatments for laughter's dark side: depression.

Meanwhile, there's the question of what's so darn funny in the animal world.

"Although no one has investigated the possibility of rat humor, if it exists, it is likely to be heavily laced with slapstick," Panksepp figures. "Even if adult rodents have no well-developed cognitive sense of humor, young rats have a marvelous sense of fun."

Science has traditionally deemed animals incapable of joy and woe.

Panksepp's response: "Although some still regard laughter as a uniquely human trait, honed in the Pleistocene, the joke’s on them."

© 2012 LiveScience.com. All rights reserved.

Photos: Animal Tracks: A biker pup, bears and more

loading photos...
  1. Comic-con pup

    Ollie the French Bulldog, dressed in a "Shazam" costume, sits outside of the San Diego Convention Center during the 2014 Comic-Con International Convention in San Diego, California, on July 24. (Sandy Huffaker / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Elegant emu

    An emu named Kanoro is pictured in the enclosure in the zoo of Munich, on July 25, 2014. (Christof Stache / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Cat Cafe

    Customers drink a coffee as several cats roam at Cat Cafe Melbourne in Melbourne, Australia, on July 25. (Scott Barbour / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Biker boys

    Jeremiah Gerbracht rides his Harley Davidson motorcycle with his dog on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, on July 20. (Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Deep blue

    Dolphins swim in the Mediterranean sea off the coasts of Nice, France, on July 23. (Valery Hache / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Down the track

    Darren Weir trained galloper makes his way up the 1400 metre straight training track in Ballarat, Australia, on July 23. (Vince Caligiuri / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Helping out

    A resident pours sea water on a giant green sea turtle which accidentally got tangled in a fishing net off a village in Lingayen, Pangasinan province, on July 21. (Str / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Barrel buddy

    A polar bear sits by a cold barrel in Copenhagen Zoo, Denmark, on July 23. (Niels Ahlmann Olesen / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Perched above

    A stork enjoys a sunny afternoon in his nest on a rooftop in the small village of Frauenkirchen, Austria, on July 21. (Leonhard Foeger / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cooling down

    A sea lion cools down visitors with water from a hose in the summer heat at the Aqua Stadium aquarium in Tokyo, on July 22. (Yoshikazu Tsuno / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The storm is coming

    A cat walks in front of a glass wall reinforced with tapes as Typhoon Matmo approaches the northeastern coastal town of Nanfangao, Taiwan, on July 22. (Pichi Chuang / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Across the border

    A man returns to the Mexican side of the border after washing his horse in the Rio Grande at the U.S.-Mexico border at dusk near Mission, Texas, on July 24. (John Moore / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Fancy dog

    A costumed dog walks on its hind legs, during a free public circus performance to protest Mexico City's ban on circus animals in Mexico City's main square, the Zocalo, on July 22. (Rebecca Blackwell / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Big love

    A dog jumps up onto a participant wearing an inflated suit before taking part in "The Sumo Run" in Battersea Park, London, on July 27. (Justin Tallis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Bear necessities

    A black bear in captivity waits for visitors to throw food into his pen at the the Maine Wildlife Park in Gray, Maine, on July 25. (Robert F. Bukaty / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  1. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  2. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  3. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

  4. Editor's note:
    This image contains graphic content that some viewers may find disturbing.

    Click to view the image, or use the buttons above to navigate away.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments