Human laughter is such an inherent part of our lives. When somebody cracks a joke
, we laugh; when somebody tickles us, we laugh. It seemed so natural that we don’t give it much thought. However, this isn’t actually very unique to us- a handful of mammals including apes, dogs, and even rats were found to do it as well.
Now, a new study showed a non-mammal to display what seemed to be a contagious “laughter”, for the first time ever. Kea parrots, to start, are truly unusual for their kind as they’re the only species that lives in an alpine environment, usually found at the South Island of New Zealand. Known as “clowns of the mountains”, these bizarre parrots were able to exhibit what is described as an “emotionally contagious vocalization”, making specific calls when engaging in play.
“We were able to use a playback of these calls to show that it animates kea that were not playing to do so,” explained
Raoul Schwing, from the Messerli Research Institute, Austria, a co-author the study published in Current Biology
. “The fact that at least some of these birds started playing spontaneously when no other birds had been playing suggests that, similar to human laughter, it had an emotional effect on the birds that heard it, putting them in a playful state.” Researchers even played the recording of such calls and other non-play noises to the wild birds. They found that as the adults hear the play call, they instigated play of their own rather than finding other groups to play with.
While this is not strictly laughter itself, researchers suggest that this can still be compared to infectious laughter as it tends to serve a similar purpose. “The only other animals to show this contagion effect are chimpanzees and rats, both very or relatively close in evolutionary terms,” says Schwing. “Our finding further bridges the perceived gap between humans and [other] animals, and shows that it also happens in birds, which are very distantly related.”