Apes also have a sense of humor

apes, monkeys, primates

From their first months of life, human babies start making jokes. But they are not the only animals capable of doing so. An international team of biologists and primatologists has documented 18 different teasing behaviors in gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans.

Apes also have a sense of humor
Two gorillas playing. / Max Block

The joke It is a fundamental part of human interactions. This behavior is based on social intelligence, the ability to anticipate future actions and the ability to recognize the expectations of others.

In babies, it arises before they utter their first words, with repetitive provocations that often involve surprise. Children tease their parents by offering and taking objects from them, violating social norms—called provocative noncompliance—and disrupting the activities of others.

A study published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B reveals that, in the case of gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, we not only have similar genetics and evolutionary past, but also the same joking behaviors.

 

As in boys and girls, in great apes this type of joke includes a responsive look, repetition and elaboration of behavior, elements of surprise, and usually takes place in relaxed contexts.

Isabelle Laumer, Max Plank Institute
 
“Playful and fun teasing is well studied in human babies, but not in our closest relative,” he explains to SINC. Isabelle Laumer, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Animal Behavior in Germany and first author of the study. "Our results support the idea that in great apes they are a provocative, intentional and often playful behavior."

“As in boys and girls, in these species these types of jokes include the response look (the ape looks at the target after showing a funny action), repetition and elaboration of the behavior (they perform other behaviors when the target does not). reacts or does so minimally), elements of surprise and usually take place in relaxed contexts,” he adds.

“Pranksters often repeatedly waved or swung a body part or object in the center of the target's field of vision, hit or poked the target, stared at the target's face, stopped the target's movements, pulled the target's hair, or did other things. behaviors that are extremely difficult to ignore,” he says. Erica Cartmill, professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and lead author of the study.

Almost 20 different teasing behaviors

The team analyzed different spontaneous social interactions while observing the actions, body movements and facial expressions of the animal making the joke, and how the victims of its teasing responded in turn.

Teasing in great apes is not limited to a few species-typical actions, but can take many forms, perhaps with varying levels of playful and aggressive elements.

The experts also assessed the intentionality of the teasing by looking for evidence that the behavior was directed at a specific goal, that it persisted or escalated, and that the individuals using this provocation expected a response.

Thus, they identified 18 different types of teasing, many of them intended to provoke a response or, at least, attract the target's attention. “Teasing in great apes is not limited to a few species-typical actions, but can take many forms, perhaps with varying levels of playful and aggressive elements,” Laumer says.

playful behavior apes
Juvenile orangutan pulling its mother's hair. / BOS BPI Foundation

Humor, an evolution of 13 million years

The researchers noted that Jane Goodall and other primatologists had mentioned similar behaviors in chimpanzees many years ago, but this new study is the first to systematically study playful teasing.

Jane Goodall and other primatologists had mentioned similar behaviors in chimpanzees many years ago.

"From an evolutionary point of view, this study suggests that playful teasing and its cognitive prerequisites may have been present in our last common ancestor, at least 13 million years ago," Laumer says.

“To unravel the evolution of humor in our species, we also plan to study mocking and playful behavior in other species. We also hope that this study will raise awareness about the similarities we share with our closest relatives and the importance of protecting these endangered animals,” he concludes.

Reference:

B. Laumer et al.: “Spontaneous playful teasing in four great ape species.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 2024.

 
Source: SINC
Rights: Creative Commons.
Octavio Alonso