[Paleopsych] SW: On Laughter
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Mon May 30 01:41:33 UTC 2005
Psychology: On Laughter
The following points are made by Jaak Panksepp (Science 2005
1) Research suggests that the capacity for human laughter preceded the
capacity for speech during evolution of the brain. Indeed, neural
circuits for laughter exist in very ancient regions of the brain 
and ancestral forms of play and laughter existed in other animals eons
before we humans came along. Recent studies in rats, dogs, and chimps
[2,3] are providing evidence that laughter and joy may not be uniquely
2) The capacity to laugh emerges early in child development, and
perhaps in mammalian brain-mind evolution as well. Indeed, young
children, whose semantic sense of humor is marginal, laugh and shriek
abundantly in the midst of their other rough-and-tumble activities. If
one looks carefully, laughter is especially evident during chasing,
with the chasee typically laughing more than the chaser. As every
aspiring comedian knows, success is only achieved if receivers exhibit
more laughter than transmitters. The same behavior patterns are
evident in the "play panting" of young chimps as they mischievously
chase, mouth, and tickle each other .
3) Laughter seems to hark back to the ancestral emotional recesses of
our animalian past [3,4]. We know that many other mammals exhibit play
sounds, including tickle-induced panting, which resembles human
laughter [2,4,5], even though these utterances are not as loud and
persistent as our sonographically complex human chuckles. However, it
is the discovery of "laughing rats" that could offer a workable model
with which to systemically analyze the neurobiological antecedents of
human joy . When rats play, their rambunctious shenanigans are
accompanied by a cacophony of 50-kHz chirps that reflect positive
emotional feelings. Sonographic analysis suggests that some chirps,
like human laughs, are more joyous than others.
4) Could sounds emitted by animals during play be an ancestral form of
human laughter? If rats are tickled in a playful way, they readily
emit these 50-kHz chirps . The tickled rats became socially bonded
to the experimenters and were rapidly conditioned to seek tickles.
They preferred spending time with other animals that chirped a lot
rather than with those that did not . Indeed, chirping in rats
could be provoked by neurochemically "tickling" dopamine reward
circuits in the brain, which also light up during human mirth. Perhaps
laughter will provide a new measure for analyzing natural
reward/desire circuits in the brain, which are also activated during
1. K. Poeck, in Handbook of Clinical Neurology, P. J. Vinken, G. W.
Bruyn, Eds. (North Holland, Amsterdam, 1969), vol. 3
2. T. Matsusaka, Primates, 45, 221 (2004)
3. J. Panksepp, J. Burgdorf, Physiol. Behav. 79, 533 (2003)
4. G. M. Burghardt, The Genesis of Animal Play (MIT Press, Cambridge,
5. R. R. Provine, Laughter (Viking, New York, 2000)
ANIMAL BEHAVIOR: ON ANTHROPOMORPHISM
The following points are made by Clive D. Wynne (Nature 2004 428:606):
1) The complexity of animal behavior naturally prompts us to use terms
that are familiar from everyday descriptions of our own actions.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) used mentalistic terms freely when
describing, for example, pleasure and disappointment in dogs; the
cunning of a cobra; and sympathy in crows. Darwin's careful
anthropomorphism, when combined with meticulous description, provided
a scientific basis for obvious resemblances between the behavior and
psychology of humans and other animals. It raised few objections.
2) The 1890s saw a strong reaction against ascribing conscious
thoughts to animals. In the UK, the canon of Conwy Lloyd Morgan
(1852-1936) forbade the explanation of animal behavior with "a higher
psychical faculty" than demanded by the data. In the US, Edward
Thorndike (1874-1949) advocated replacing the use of anecdotes in the
study of animal behavior with controlled experiments. He argued that
when studied in controlled and reproducible environments, animal
behavior revealed simple mechanical laws that made mentalistic
3) This rejection of anthropomorphism was one of the few founding
principles of behaviorism that survived the rise of ethological and
cognitive approaches to studying animal behavior. But after a century
of silence, recent decades have seen a resurgence of anthropomorphism.
This movement was led by ethologist Donald Griffin, famous for his
discovery of bat sonar. Griffin argued that the complexity of animal
behavior implies conscious beliefs and desires, and that an
anthropomorphic explanation can be more parsimonious than one built
solely on behavioral laws. Griffin postulated, "Insofar as animals
have conscious experiences, this is a significant fact about their
nature and their lives." Animal communication particularly impressed
Griffin as implying animal consciousness.
4) Griffin has inspired several researchers to develop ways of making
anthropomorphism into a constructive tool for understanding animal
behavior. Gordon Burghardt was keen to distinguish the impulse that
prompts children to engage in conversations with the family dog (naive
anthropomorphism) from "critical anthropomorphism", which uses the
assumption of animal consciousness as a "heuristic method to formulate
research agendas that result in publicly verifiable data that move our
understanding of behavior forward." Burghardt points to the
death-feigning behavior of snakes and possums as examples of complex
and apparently deceitful behaviors that can best be understood by
assuming that animals have conscious states.
5) But anthropomorphism is not a well-developed scientific system. On
the contrary, its hypotheses are generally nothing more than informal
folk psychology, and may be of no more use to the scientific
psychologist than folk physics to a trained physicist. Although
anthropomorphism may on occasion be a source of useful hypotheses
about animal behavior, acknowledging this does not concede the general
utility of an anthropomorphic approach to animal behavior.(1-4)
1. Blumberg, M. S. & Wasserman, E. A. Am. Psychol. 50, 133-144 (1995)
2. De Waal, F. B. M. Phil. Top. 27, 255-280 (1999)
3. Mitchell, R. W. et al. Anthropomorphism, Anecdotes and Animals
(State Univ. New York Press, New York, 1997)
4. Wynne, C. D. L. Do Animals Think? (Princeton Univ. Press,
Princeton, New Jersey, 2004)
ON ANIMAL SELF-AWARENESS
The following points are made by Marc Bekoff (Nature 2002 419:255):
1) Researchers are interested in animal awareness because they are
curious to discover what animals might know about themselves. There
are, however, long-held and polarized views about the degree of
self-awareness in animals. Some people believe that only great apes
have "rich" notions of self --knowing who they are and/or having a
"theory of mind", which means being able to infer the states of minds
of others --whereas others argue that it is methodologically too
difficult to address this question because animal (like human) minds
are subjective and private. Many in this latter category do not
attribute any sense of self to animals other than humans, and some,
dismissing behavioral and neurobiological research on animal
cognition, wonder whether animals are conscious of anything at all.
2) What might animals know about themselves? Most studies of animal
self-awareness have been narrowly paradigm-driven. The "red spot"
technique was first used by Gordon Gallup to study animal
self-awareness in chimpanzees; it and variations have been used on
great apes and monkeys, as well as on a few dolphins and elephants.
For primates, a spot is placed on the forehead of an anesthetized
individual and self-directed movements towards the spot are scored
after he or she awakens and catches sight of themselves in a mirror, a
high score indicating the presence of some degree of self-awareness.
But in some cases, the data are derived from tests on small numbers of
individuals, many of whom fail it because they do not make
self-directed movements towards the spot. Those who pass the test
might not be representative of wild relatives because they have had
extensive human contact and previous experience with mirrors, factors
that might influence their trainability and willingness to use a
mirror. Those who fail the test might show some sense of 'self' in
other contexts, and other individual differences might also play a
3) The concept of animal self-awareness remains open to different
interpretations, but we will probably learn more about the mysteries
of "self" and "body-ness" by using non-invasive neuroimaging
techniques in combination with cognitive ethological studies. If we
look at "self-awareness" as "body-awareness", we might also discover
more about how animals think and the perceptual and neurobiological
processes underlying various cognitive capacities. Darwin's ideas
about evolutionary continuity, together with empirical data ("science
sense") and common sense, caution against the unyielding claim that
humans --and perhaps other great apes and cetaceans -- are the only
species in which some sense of self has evolved.(1-5)
1. Bekoff, M. Minding Animals: Awareness, Emotions, and Heart (Oxford
Univ. Press, New York & London, 2002).
2. Bekoff, M., Allen, C. & Burghardt, G. M. (eds) The Cognitive
Animal: Empirical and Theoretical Perspectives on Animal Cognition
(MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2002); see especially essays on
self-awareness by Gallup, G. G., Anderson, J. R. & Shillito, D. J.;
Mitchell, R. W.; Shumaker, R. W. & Swartz, K. B.
3. Mitchell, R. W. in Handbook of Self and Identity (eds Leary, M. R.
& Tangney, J.) 567 593 (Guilford, New York, 2002).
4. Reiss, D. Nature 418, 369 370 (2002).
5. Rilling, J. K. et al. Neuron 35, 395 405 (2002).
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