Animals Laugh Too! UCLA Study Finds ‘Vocal Play Signals’ in at Least 65 Species

A UCLA graduate student and professor found vocal play signals — or laughter — in at least 65 species, ranging from cows to seals.

In an article published Bioacoustics, an international peer-reviewed journal devoted to animal sounds, primatologist and UCLA anthropology graduate student Sasha Winkler and UCLA professor of communication Greg Bryant dive into the phenomenon of laughter in the animal kingdom.

As Winkler and Bryant looked through existing scientific literature regarding animal play behavior, scouring for mentions of vocal play signs. They successfully found vocal play behavior in at least 65 species, including domestic cows, rats, foxes, dogs, seals, three bird species and more.

“This work lays out nicely how a phenomenon once thought to be particularly human turns out to be closely tied to behavior shared with species separated from humans by tens of millions of years,” Bryant told UCLA Newsroom.

Humans are unlikely to recognize animal laughter, and vocal play signals are “usually inconspicuous,” said Bryant.

The researchers searched for indicators such as whether the sounds were noisy or tonal, loud or quiet, short or long, singular or rhythmic. 

“When we laugh, we are often providing information to others that we are having fun and also inviting others to join,” Winkler said. “Some scholars have suggested that this kind of vocal behavior is shared across many animals who play, and as such, laughter is our human version of an evolutionarily old vocal play signal.”

Image source: UCLA Newsroom