Laughing Kea a Science Story of the Year
Leading scientists pick the dozen most significant discoveries and developments of 2017 – from a steep decline in flying insects to a laughter-like play vocalisation – a warble call – has been discovered in keas.
“It’s a common misconception that only humans laugh: in fact a variety of mammals, from gorillas to rats, have been shown to laugh, and as in humans, animal laughter is a social behaviour, associated with tickling and play,” writes Sophie Scott, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University College London.
“I have long suspected that there is more mammal laughter out there, not least because so many mammals are social and all mammals play.
“My favourite paper of 2017 revealed solid evidence that in fact a laughter-like play vocalisation – a warble call – has been discovered in keas, a highly social and intelligent parrot from New Zealand.
“These parrots play a lot – on their own with objects, and with others in rough-and-tumble play (a bit like cats), or in aerial acrobatics. Strikingly, the study found that when these play vocalisations are played back to wild kea, both juveniles and adults will start to play with the other kea around them.
“This suggests that kea are showing a contagious response to the play sounds. Much as humans will join in with laughter even if they don’t know why people are laughing, kea will spontaneously start to engage in play just from hearing the sounds of other kea playing.
“This is a dramatic demonstration both of play and play vocalisations in a non-mammal, and also of the contagious effect of these positive emotional sounds in a non-mammal. I’d love to know if this really is an avian form of laughter, and after this year I feel like we need to know there is more laughter out there!”
Original article by Sophie Scott, The Guardian, December 24, 2017.
Photo by Mark Taylor.