Between verbal jokes, slapstick comedy and tickling, there are numerous reasons we laugh. But are humans the only species with a sense of humor?
The short answer is no, but it also depends on how you define “humor.”
For millennia, philosophers and psychologists have struggled to come up with an exact definition for what constitutes as humor. They’ve presented numerous theories over the years, one of the most popular being the “incongruity theory” of humor. At its basic level, this theory says that humor arises when there’s an inconsistency between what one expects to happen and what actually happens — and this includes comedic tools like puns, irony and twists of fate.
Under this definition, the vast majority of animals probably don’t have a sense of humor, as they lack the cognitive mechanisms and networks that would allow them to identify such inconsistencies.
One known exception is Koko, the famous western lowland gorilla who understands more than 1,000 American Sign Language signs and 2,000 spoken English words. The clever primate is known not only to use language to humorous effect by playing with different meanings of the same word, but also to understand slapstick comedy — she’s reportedly signed the word “chase” after tying her trainer’s shoelaces together and made laughing noises at her trainer’s clumsiness.
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