Skip to Content
Uncategorized

The 16-Million-Year-Old Tickle

Researchers in Germany suggest that humans and apes have been tickling and giggling for a very long time.

Have you been tickled recently, or have you tickled?

Apparently, this intimate and usually fun interaction between humans–especially between parents and small children–is not an exclusively human trait. According to a new study, apes have been tickling each other and laughing for millions of years. Why? It’s not clear, although the survival of tickling for so long suggests that apes and humans have prospered and reproduced more than those who did not.

Here is a description of the study from a blog entry by 23andMe’s ErinC:

Researchers from the University of Hannover in Germany recorded the tickle-induced vocalizations from three human infants and 21 infant and juvenile orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos and analyzed this acoustic data to find similarities and differences among the five species. Their results, published online today in the journal Current Biology, show that not only are the hoots, hollers and snorts of the great apes really laughter, but the evolutionary relationships between the sounds match up with the known evolutionary relationships between the species based on genetics.

“At a minimum, one can conclude that it is appropriate to consider ‘laughter’ to be a cross-species phenomenon, and that it is therefore not anthropomorphic to use this term for tickling-induced vocalizations produced by the great apes,” the authors write.

But the researchers’ findings also indicate something more profound: rather than being a uniquely human invention, tickle-induced chuckles can be traced back 10 to 16 million years to our last common ancestor with the great apes. Analysis of the chortles of a lesser ape, the siamang, suggests that laughter may be even older.

Despite all the similarities the researchers found between humans and the great apes, the fact remains that human giggles are distinct: we mostly laugh while exhaling, and our vocal cords vibrate to make the “ha ha ha” sounds, while ape snickers are more of the in-and-out panting variety.

Deep Dive

Uncategorized

Embracing CX in the metaverse

More than just meeting customers where they are, the metaverse offers opportunities to transform customer experience.

Identity protection is key to metaverse innovation

As immersive experiences in the metaverse become more sophisticated, so does the threat landscape.

The modern enterprise imaging and data value chain

For both patients and providers, intelligent, interoperable, and open workflow solutions will make all the difference.

Scientists have created synthetic mouse embryos with developed brains

The stem-cell-derived embryos could shed new light on the earliest stages of human pregnancy.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.