Laughter is a lot older than we think. Dating back millions of years, the human species discovered how to let out a hearty LOL even before their verbal communication skills had developed.
Scientists believe that laughter originated in primates. An example of this trait in humankind and apes can be seen in chimpanzee infants. They combine their laughing sounds with a “relaxed open-mouth display,” a facial gesture they share with human infants when they laugh.
Apparently, they have the same ticklish spots, too. The only major difference between the two types of infants is the pitch in their laughter. Chimpanzees laugh at a higher frequency than human babies do.
Upon reaching adulthood, chimpanzees laugh mostly during physical contact and when interacting with each other—what we might recognize as “slapstick” behavior.
Adult humans, on the other hand, laugh mostly in verbal conversations without physical contact, implying a much more complex sense of humor has developed.
Another contrast is that chimpanzee laughing sounds more like rapid panting actions. The sounds are made during both inhalation and exhalation. Human laughter occurs mainly during exhalation.
Current forms of human laughter are likely to be more complex than our ancient ancestors experienced. Before language, humans may have been laughing at the same level of humor and in the same panting way that chimps do now.
We do know, however, that laughter is universal and not language dependent. Whether a person is English, Chinese, Spanish or Filipino, smiles and laughter have pretty much the same meaning and effect for everyone.
It is quite possible that laughter originated as a survival skill among hominines. It helps to create bonds, strengthen ties and make everyday life tolerable. Such outcomes are just as vital to humans in modern society as they are to chimpanzees in the jungle.
As we evolve, laughter evolves with us. As humans grow more complex, so does our humor. From simple tickles to witty intellectual gags to stimulate us, laughter has come a long way in human history.
Victor Borge once claimed, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two persons.” It is not only the “best medicine” but also “an instant vacation” and “a tranquilizer with no side effects.” No doubt laughter will remain a part of our universe for a long, long time to come.
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