Like humans, apes also have a sense of humour

Daily News Egypt
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Even as early as eight months old, babies willfully torment other people. Non-human animals may engage in comparable fun taunting since language is not necessary for this behaviour.

A global group of primatologists and cognitive biologists has now observed playful teasing in four species of large apes. Ape teasing is incendiary, persistent, and combines elements of play and surprise, much like human joking. The ancestors of all four great ape species utilized playful teasing, suggesting that at least 13 million years ago the necessary elements of humour originated in the human lineage.

Joking is a vital component of human connection that requires social intelligence, the capacity to predict behaviour in the future, and the capacity to identify and value when others’ expectations are being disregarded. Joking and teasing are quite similar, and playful teasing can be thought of as the cognitive antecedent to joking.

Humans engage in playful taunting as early as eight months of age, even before they utter their first words. Repetitive provocation that frequently involves surprise is one of the origins of teasing. Babies playfully offer and take away objects, break social norms (also known as provocative non-compliance), and interfere with other people’s activities in an attempt to tease their parents.

Scientists from the University of California Los Angeles, the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior, Indiana University, and the University of California San Diego (Isabelle Laumer, Sasha Winkler, Federico Rossano, and Erica Cartmill) have reported evidence of playful teasing among the four great ape species: gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and bonobos.

Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The study’s first author, post-doctoral researcher Isabelle Laumer (UCLA/MPI-AB), notes that “great apes are excellent candidates for playful teasing, as they are closely related to us, engage in social play, show laughter, and display relatively sophisticated understandings of others’ expectations.”

The group examined casual social exchanges that seemed to be provocative, lighthearted, or amusing. The researchers watched the targets of the teasing’s reactions in turn, as well as the teaser’s actions, facial expressions, and body language during these exchanges. In order to determine whether a behaviour was intentional, they also looked for proof that the teaser was aiming for a particular target, that the activity continued or got stronger, and that the teaser was waiting for a reaction from the target.

The researchers discovered that gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and bonobos all displayed purposefully provocative behaviour, frequently combined with playlike elements. They recognized eighteen different forms of teasing. Several of these actions seemed to be intended to elicit a reaction from the recipient, or at the very least, to gain their attention.

Professor Erica Cartmill of UCLA and IU, the study’s senior author, notes that “it was common for teasers to repeatedly wave or swing a body part or object in the middle of the target’s field of vision, hit or poke them, stare closely at their face, disrupt their movements, pull on their hair or perform other behaviours that were extremely difficult for the target to ignore.”

Though it might take many different forms, the writers point out that playful taunting was distinct from play in a few ways. Cartmill notes that playful teasing in great apes is one-sided and typically originates from the teaser throughout the entire engagement, with little to no reciprocation. “The animals also seldom use play signals, such as the ‘hold’ gestures that indicate their intention to play, or the primate ‘play face,’ which is comparable to a smile.”

Apes engaged in playful teasing primarily when they were at ease and had traits similar to those of humans. According to Laumer, “Ape playful teasing is similar to child teasing in that it involves one-sided provocation, response waiting, which is when the teaser looks directly towards the target’s face after a teasing action, repetition, and elements of surprise.”

Although Jane Goodall and other field primatologists had reported seeing comparable behaviours in chimpanzees years before, the researchers pointed out that this new study was the first to thoroughly examine playful teasing. Laumer explains, “From an evolutionary perspective, playful teasing and its cognitive prerequisites may have been present in our last common ancestor, at least 13 million years ago. This is because playful teasing is present in all four great apes and is similar to playful teasing and joking in human infants.”

“We hope that by studying playful teasing in other species, other researchers will be motivated to better understand the development of this complex trait. We also hope that by studying these endangered species, people would become more conscious of the similarities between us and our closest ancestors,” she says.

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