Bering in Mind: Laughing rats and ticklish gorillas: Joy and mirth in humans and other animals

By Jesse Bering

Last week, while in a drowsy, altitude-induced delirium 35,000 feet somewhere over Iceland, I groped mindlessly for the cozy blue blanket poking out beneath my seat, only to realize—to my unutterable horror—that I was in fact tugging soundly on a wriggling, sock-covered big toe. Now with a temperament such as mine, life tends to be one awkward conversation after the next, so when I turned around, smiling, to apologize to the owner of this toe, my gaze was met by a very large man whose grunt suggested that he was having some difficulty in finding the humor in this incident.

Unpleasant, yes. But I now call this event serendipitous. As I rested my head back against that sanitation paper-covered airline pillow, my mid-flight mind lighted away to a much happier memory, one involving another big toe, yet this one belonging to a noticeably more good-humored animal than the one sitting behind me. This other toe—which felt every bit as much as its overstuffed human equivalent did, I should add—was attached to a 450-pound Western Lowland gorilla, with calcified gums, named King. When I was 19, and he was 27, I spent much of the Summer of 1996 with my toothless friend King, listening to Frank Sinatra and the Three Tenors (my bizarre foray into science, which you can read about here), playing chase from one side of his exhibit to the other, and tickling his toes. He’d lean back in his night house, stick out one huge ashen grey foot through the bars of his cage and leave it dangling there in anticipation, erupting in shoulder-heaving guttural “laughter” as I’d grab hold of one of his toes and gently give it a palpable squeeze. He almost couldn’t control himself when, one day, I leaned down to act as though I was going to bite on that plump digit. If you’ve never seen a gorilla in a fit of laughter, I’d recommend searching out such a sight before you pass from this world. It’s something that would stir up cognitive dissonance in even the heartiest of creationists…………………

via Bering in Mind: Laughing rats and ticklish gorillas: Joy and mirth in humans and other animals.

This entry was posted in Biology. Bookmark the permalink.