When did humor appear? Researchers believe that at least 13 million years ago.

About the episode

Even before language became available to us, we enjoyed making fun of each other, joking, and teasing each other. Now researchers are wondering whether this exciting behavior – which people already display when they are still very young – also occurs in monkeys.

Telling jokes sounds easy, but it requires a lot of social intelligence and the ability to think ahead. It is impressive that babies as young as eight months old are already showing the beginnings of this behavior. Now new research shows that this also applies to monkeys.

In orangutans, gorillas, bonobos, and chimpanzees, scientists have been able to record and study behavior that resembles our playful teasing, with elements of surprise and challenge, just like ours.

Because this behavior has been seen in all four great ape species, researchers suspect that this introduction to humor evolved in our common ancestors with apes at least 13 million years ago.

The monkeys showed this behavior mainly when they were relaxed. Often it was the tease that did the work. Pushing with a stick, staring, pulling hair, making movements in the other person’s field of vision, taking something: it all seemed very similar to what we do as children.

Researchers like Jane Goodall had previously observed this type of behavior occurring among chimpanzees, but this was the first comprehensive, multi-species study of this specific behavior.

Read more about the research here: Do monkeys have a sense of humor?

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Megan Vasquez

"Creator. Coffee buff. Internet lover. Organizer. Pop culture geek. Tv fan. Proud foodaholic."

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