BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 January 2008, 12:55 GMT
'Laughs' not exclusive to humans
Orang-utan  Image: Oliver Lang/AFP/Getty Images
An open mouth resembles laughter
The basis for laughter may have originated in an ancient primate ancestral to both humans and modern apes, a study suggests.

Scientists found that orang-utans had a sense of empathy and mimicry which forms an essential part of laughter.

Facial expressions, such as the open, gaping mouth resembling laughter, were picked up and copied by orang-utans.

The speed with which they were mimicked suggests these expressions were involuntary, Biology Letters reports.

In other words, the "laughter" was contagious.

Dr Marina Davila Ross, from the University of Portsmouth and Professor Elke Zimmermann at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hanover, Germany, studied the play behaviour of 25 orang-utans aged between two and 12 at four primate centres around the world.

When one of the orang-utans displayed an open, gaping mouth, its playmate would often display the same expression less than half a second later.

Dr Davila Ross commented: "In humans, mimicking behaviour can be voluntary and involuntary. Until our discovery there had been no evidence that animals had similar responses.

"What is clear now is the building blocks of positive emotional contagion and empathy that refer to rapid involuntary facial mimicry in humans evolved prior to humankind."

She added that the findings shed a new light on empathy and its importance for animals which live in groups such as orang-utans.



SEE ALSO
Sky counters track orang-utans
07 Dec 04 |  Science/Nature
Orangutans 'may die out by 2025'
12 Jan 04 |  Science/Nature

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific