Laughter part II: Laughing Hyenas

Why didn’t the nasal retina cross the road?  Because it already crossed at the optic chiasm!

Alright, so that really wasn’t funny.  But let’s keep going with our conversation of laughter.   Some have said that laughter is one of the only characteristics that are specific to humans, but can this be true?  We’ve all seen the laughing hyenas in the Lion King, but what’s so funny?  Have you ever seen a dog’s face while scratching their belly?  If that’s not laughter, I don’t know what is.

Researchers have started to believe that animals also share this human like quality of laughter.  But then why can’t we hear it?  It’s similar to why we can’t hear bats use sonar to locate prey in the night.  Animals are producing this ‘laughter’ at such a high frequencies that we are unable to hear it with our puny human ears.  Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist at Bowling Green State University, examines this phenomenon a little more closely by tickling rats.  Yes, I said it: tickling rats.

Seems pretty strange, right?  Panksepp has been studying joy, along with numerous other emotions, in rats and he’s found that we’re really not too different from our animal counterparts.  It seems like everything that once made us human can now be applied to the animal world.  My prediction?  This will encourage researchers to look at communication with animals in a new light, try new ways to form a connection.  Just don’t be expecting me to try my jokes out on my rats anytime soon.  They’re a tough crowd.

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