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Do rats laugh? At cats?

File:Rattus norvegicus 1.jpgIn “Rats Laugh, but Not Like Humans” (Scientific American, June 22, 2012), Jesse Bering asks, “Do animals other than humans have a sense of humor?” and answers “Maybe so.” But he doesn’t make out a very good case. Even he admits,

Now, Panksepp would be the first to acknowledge that his findings do not imply that rats have a “sense of humor,” only that there appear to be evolutionary contiguities between laughter in human children during rough-and-tumble play and the expression of similar vocalizations in young rats. A sense of humor—especially adult humor—requires cognitive mechanisms that may or may not be present in other species. He does suggest, however, that this may be an empirically falsifiable question: “If a cat … had been a persistently troublesome feature of a rat’s life, might that rat show a few happy chirps if something bad happened to its nemesis? Would a rat chirp if the cat fell into a trap or was whisked up into the air by its tail? We would not recommend such mean-spirited experiments to be conducted but would encourage anyone who wishes to go in that direction to find more benign ways to evaluate those issues.”

Laughter is an intellectual response to life, a recognition of the difference between what is and what could or should be. Does the rat think that the cat “shouldn’t” be a problem to him? Does he have a concept of the cat as an “enemy,” as opposed to a fear response to a predator?

We shall see. One worries that some of these people are apt to read far too much into animal behaviour. The problem isn’t the nonsense they subsequently talk about human behaviour (because so few believe them anyway) but the things they will miss about animal behaviour – that are genuinely interesting and instructive.

Yes, Thomas Nagel. We are looking at you. Specifically, we are looking at your essay, “What is it like to be a bat? ” Required reading for sane persons interested in the topic of animal mind.

See also:

Convergent evolution: Separate development of the genetic patterns of intelligence?

Researchers: Pigeons, otherwise stupid, learn to recognize people they know

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One Response to Do rats laugh? At cats?

  1. 1

    Laughter is not related, I say, to anything other that the need to vocalize quickly beyond the use of words or sounds normally used to express something.
    Screaming is the same operation.

    Animals “laugh” as much as people if laughter is just fast vocalization.
    The purpose is not to be understood but is beyond normal control.

    People simply being intelligent like our creator have so much more thoughts about the world around that we laugh more.

    Laughter is not a part of the intellect but mere expression of a thought that is overcoming slower expression.
    Animals could laugh all the time but are too dumb to have anything to laugh about.

    So rats here are doing the same thing as kids.
    Excited expressions that are not being controlled.
    if they were attacked by a cat likewise noise/scream would come out.

    Good thread but laughter is a mere mechanism . its not human uniqueness.
    Just a noise.

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