Do they have an animal sense of humor?

Laughter is a vital action for health. It is by laughing that people can release tension, reduce our discomfort, and get rid of everyday stress. In other words, humor is a protective factor against psychopathology.

We have seen that humans are not the only ones laughing. Animals like dogs, foxes, chimpanzees, gorillas, rats and many more also laugh, which has sparked the interest of many sciences to find an explanation.

Knowing that in these species and others, they laugh a question arises: Do they have an animal sense of humor? Below, we’ll take a look at what science has discovered and the current state of this problem.

    Do they have an animal sense of humor?

    Laughter is an extremely healthy activity. Through laughter we can free ourselves from all kinds of negative feelings which can eventually turn into psychopathology. It is for this reason that in the course of therapy the sense of humor becomes a highly valued aspect in the patient, as it acts as a protective factor and can also be used to give rise to such treatments. than laughter therapy.

    But laughter is not only human. In other species, we have observed behaviors very similar to what we mean by laughter, especially in animals closely related phylogenetically to our own, such as higher primates (bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans …) , in addition to dogs, foxes and rats.

    Often times we humans laugh when we hear a joke, see a funny situation like when someone slips on a banana peel or comes across a curious situation. In other words, we laughed because we have a good sense of humor, and since we have seen other species laugh too, it is inevitable to wonder if dogs, higher primates and rats have this sense of humor. ‘humor.

    Much research has attempted to answer this question, focusing, of course, on primates.. However, it must be said that tackling this problem scientifically is quite a complicated thing because … what is the sense of humor? Each person has a different sense of humor, easily demonstrable given that there are those who laugh at nothing and those who laugh at nothing. How can we see in other animals that we don’t even know in ourselves what it is?

    Starting from different definitions and evaluating in different ways, everything seems to indicate that indeed, animals, but not all, can have a sense of humor. Various researches have been carried out with the intention of deepening this aspect, on the basis of various theories of psychology and philosophy.

    Theory of incongruity

    Among the theories on humor, the best known is the “humor incongruity theory”. This theory states that humor occurs when an inconsistency arises between what you expect and what actually happens.

    Our brain tries to do predictions of how a situation will eventually develop or how a conversation will end. It is for this reason that when we see something funny and unexpected or when they tell us a joke, we laugh, because we did not see it coming.

    The theory of incongruity doesn’t rule out the possibility that animals have a sense of humor, but it does. it is rejected that he can have these animals which do not possess a brain which can at least house the capacity of the tongue. Most animals don’t have cognitive mechanisms and neural networks to identify inconsistencies, so assuming humor is an inconsistency, they can’t have it. The only animals that could have it are primates.

      Benign rape theory

      In addition to the theory of humor incongruity, the theory of benign rape has been proposed to explain this phenomenon. Really controversial in name, this theory holds this humor occurs in situations where the person’s well-being, identity or normative belief system is threatenedBut at the same time it seems to be good and you are okay with it.

      The theory of benign rape is emerging as an alternative to the incongruity of humor, because the latter does not explain why in situations where there is no incongruity, such as hearing a joke with predictable sentences, they are funny. situations that are not fun for everyone.

      The theory of benign rape this would allow a better understanding of tickling. These appear when someone benignly encroaches on our physical space, affecting various parts of our body. This touch that we did not expect, which surprises us and makes us laugh.

      If we try to tickle each other it will not work because there will be no surprise and if we tickle someone we do not know on the street, far from laughing, he will get angry because he will not see this as a benign act but more like an attack or at least some kind of abuse.


      Below, we’ll take a closer look at the research in which it has been evaluated whether animals can have a sense of humor.

      1. Coconut the gorilla

      Koko the Gorilla (1971-2018) was a very famous primate known to be able to create and understand over 1000 signs in American Sign Language, as well as understand over 2000 words in spoken English. This gorilla has been the subject of many studies, because as a subject it was truly a raw gem: it allowed the study of very human aspects in animals which, until relatively recently, the only thing that seemed to share with our species was its anthropomorphic form.

      Koko is known to have used the language very intelligently, Demonstrating to her trainer Dr. Francine Patterson. As well as communicating, this gorilla signed with humorous intent, playing with different meanings of the same word and understanding the antics his caregivers were doing.

      An anecdote about this gorilla, told by researchers who looked after it, is that once Koko signed the word “chase” after tying the strings of his trainers, Laughing out loud.

      The exact reason is unknown, but it is assumed that he suggested either that they pursue her and that, having the ropes loosely tied, her coaches would stumble and she would throw a few laughs or just play changing wordsKnowing that it was not that word, he must have used to designate “to tie the ropes”.

      The latter may be linked to the behavior of five-year-olds, who are increasingly aware of the language and its use for humorous purposes. There are many children of these ages who, although they have no problems with intellectual development or pronunciation, use other words to refer to things (symbolic play) or to invent them directly, sometimes with the intention to confuse naive adults.

      2. The dogs of Spokane

      If it was a surprise to find a sense of humor in primates, it was even more to find it in man’s best friend: the dog. A study by members of the Regional Animal Care Service in Spokane County, Washington, USA investigated the growls of dogs in the shelter when playing. The caregivers seemed to listen to sounds resembling laughter, With which they began to study them more in depth by recording them.

      Since dogs made these growls when they were having fun, the researchers wanted to know to what extent they could be seen as a sign of a sense of humor. It was for this reason that they wanted to know how the dogs would react if they felt them without playing, so they decided to broadcast through the loudspeakers at the shelter. To their surprise, they saw the dogs calm down, wag their tails, show playful looks, and it seemed that instead of being confined to a kennel, they were having fun in a comedy club.

      3. Washoe, the chimpanzee who made jokes

      It has been shown that animals bred in captivity, especially primates, can behave in a provocative way for fun. An example of this is the case of another famous primate, the chimpanzee Washoe (1965-2007).

      As with Koko the Gorilla, Washoe learned American Sign Language, being one of the first primates to show advanced language skills. It’s because you can talk that your caregiver, Roger Fouts, can tell us a curious anecdote about the chimpanzee.

      Fouts was one day with Washoe, holding her on his shoulders when he suddenly started noticing the hot flow of monkey-like urine. Indeed, Washoe had just pissed on him, which no researcher, no matter how much he likes monkeys, dislikes.

      Roger looked up with a certain glare to respond to Washoe who had pissed him off when, to his surprise, he saw the chimpanzee trying to say something to him. At that point, he signed the word “funny”: Washoe got pissed off, Fouts being the victim of a joke.

      This somewhat eschatological anecdote is taken as proof that chimpanzees can have a sense of humor. Washoe behaved this way to annoy his caregiver, with the clear intention of having fun at the expense of Roger Fouts’ hygiene. It’s not that the chimp couldn’t control herself or wasn’t trained to urinate in a particular location, but she decided to urinate on her caregiver with the intention of having fun. Of course, primates have a sense of humor that humans don’t share.

      Bibliographical references:

      • McGhee, P. (2018). Humor of chimpanzees and gorillas: gradual emergence from wild origins to captivity for learning sign language, HUMOR, 31 (2), 405-449. doi:
      • Weems, S. (2014). Ha !: The science of when we laugh and why. United States. Basic books.

      Leave a Comment