Monkeys also have a sense of humor

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

In babies, it occurs before they utter their first words, with repeated provocations, often accompanied by surprise. Children tease their parents by offering or taking objects from them, thereby violating social norms – called provocative non-compliance – and disrupting the activities of others.

A study published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B shows that in the case of Gorillas, chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutansNot only do we have similar genetics and evolutionary past, we also have the same joking behavior.

As with boys and girls, this type of joke in great apes involves an accommodating gaze, repetition and elaboration of behaviors, and elements of surprise, and usually takes place in relaxed contexts.

Isabelle Laumer, Max Planck Institute

“Playful and funny teasing is well studied in human babies, but not in our closest relative,” he tells SINC. Isabelle Laumer, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Biology in Germany and first author of the study. “Our results support the assumption that great apes exhibit provocative, intentional and often playful behavior.”

“As with boys and girls, these types of jokes also include reaction gaze (the monkey looks at the target after performing a funny action), behavioral repetition and elaboration (they perform other behaviors when the target does not do this). “Reacts or does so minimally), has elements of surprise and usually takes 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 pushed the target, stared at the target’s face, stopped the target’s movements, pulled the target’s hair, or engaged in other behaviors. “This is extremely difficult to ignore,” he says. Erica CartmillProfessor at the University of California, Los Angeles and lead author of the study.

Almost 20 different teases

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

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

The experts also assessed the intent of the teasing, looking for evidence that the behavior was aimed at a specific goal, that it continued or escalated, and that the people using the provocation expected a response.

They identified 18 different types of teasing, many of which were aimed at eliciting a reaction or at least getting the target’s attention. “Teasing in great apes is not limited to a few species-typical actions, but can take many forms, possibly with different playful and aggressive elements,” says Laumer.

Young orangutan pulling his mother's hair

Young orangutan pulling his 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 examine playful teasing.

“From an evolutionary perspective, 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,” says Laumer.

“To elucidate 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 raises awareness of what we have in common 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 B2024.

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