Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Show Summary Details
More options …

HUMOR

International Journal of Humor Research

Editor-in-Chief: Ford, Thomas E.

4 Issues per year


IMPACT FACTOR 2016: 0.655
5-year IMPACT FACTOR: 0.718

CiteScore 2017: 1.27

SCImago Journal Rank (SJR) 2017: 0.415
Source Normalized Impact per Paper (SNIP) 2017: 1.228

Online
ISSN
1613-3722
See all formats and pricing
More options …
Volume 31, Issue 2

Issues

Chimpanzee and gorilla humor: progressive emergence from origins in the wild to captivity to sign language learning

Paul McGhee
Published Online: 2018-04-28 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2018-0017

Abstract

This article examines available (mainly anecdotal) evidence related to the experience of humor among chimpanzees and gorillas in the wild, in captivity and following systematic sign language training. Humor is defined as one form of symbolic play. Positive evidence of object permanence, cross-modal perception, deferred imitation and deception among chimpanzees and gorillas is used to document their cognitive capacity for humor. Playful teasing is proposed as the primordial form of humor among apes in the wild. This same form of humor is commonly found among signing apes, both in overt behavior and in signed communications. A second form of humor emerges in the context of captivity, consisting of throwing feces at human onlookers—who often respond to this with laughter. This early form of humor shows up in signing apes in the form of calling others “dirty,” a sign associated with feces. The diversity of forms of signing humor shown by apes is linked to McGhee, Paul E. Humor: Its origin and development. San Francisco, CA: W. H. Freeman & Co, McGhee, Paul E. Understanding and promoting the development of children’s humor. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt. model of humor development.

Keywords: Chimpanzee; coping; gorilla; humor; mischief; play; pretend; scatological; sign language; slapstick; teasing

The editors of this special issue of Humor were kind enough to allow me to offer a final expression of my view of the capacity for humor among both apes in the wild and signing apes. This question was as much at the core of my initial commitment to a lifelong focus on humor research as my initial research on children’s humor. After beginning to investigate the topic in the 1970s, I failed to re-address the challenge of identifying humor among the great apes in the wild in subsequent years. That failure is rectified here.

References

  • Adang, Otto M. 1984. Teasing in young chimpanzees. Behaviour 88. 98–123.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Allen, Gardner, R., Beatrix T. Gardner & Thomas E. Van Cantfort (eds.) 1989. Teaching sign language to chimpanzees. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.Google Scholar

  • Bekoff, Marc & John A. Byers 1985. The development of behavior from evolutionary and ecological perspectives in mammals and birds. In Max Hecht, Bruce Wallace & Ghillean T. Prance (eds.), Evolutionary Biology, vol. 19, 215–286. New York: Plenum.Google Scholar

  • Bering, Jesse M., David F. Bjorklund & Patricia Ragan 2000. Deferred imitation of object-related actions in human-reared juvenile chimpanzees and orangutans. Developmental Psychology 36. 218–232.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Burghardt, Gordon M. 2005. The genesis of animal play. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar

  • Butovskaya, Marina L. & Alexander G. Kozintsev 1996. A neglected form of quasi-aggression in apes: Possible relevance for the origins of humor. Current Anthropology 37(4). 716–717.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Byrne, Richard W. 1995. The thinking ape: Evolutionary origins of intelligence. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar

  • Byrne, Richard W. 2000. Evolution of primate cognition. Cognitive Science 24(3). 543–570.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Campos, Joseph. 1983. The importance of affective communication in social referencing: A commentary on Feinman. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 29. 83–87.Google Scholar

  • Chevalier-Skolnikoff, Suzanne. 1982. A cognitive analysis of facial behavior of Old World monkeys, apes and human beings. In Charles. T. Snowden, Charles. H. Brown & Michael. R. Peterson (eds.), Primitive communication, 303–368. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Cianelli, Shannon. N. & Roger S. Fouts 1998. Chimpanzee to chimpanzee American Sign Language communication during high arousal interactions. Human Evolution 13. 147–159.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Coffee, Gerald. 1990. Beyond survival. New York: Putnam.Google Scholar

  • Davenport, R. K., C. M. Rogers & I. S. Russell 1975. Cross-modal perception in apes: Altered visual cues and delay. Neuropsychologia 13. 229–235.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Davis, J. Q. 1995. The perception of distortions in the signs of American Sign Language by a group of cross-fostered chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Unpublished master’s thesis. Central Washington University, Ellensburg, WA. [Cited by Fouts, Jensvold & Fouts 2002.]Google Scholar

  • De Waal, Frans B. M. & Janneke A. Hoekstra 1980. Contexts and predictability of aggression in chimpanzees. Animal Behaviour 28. 929–937.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • De Waal, Frans B. N. 1989. Food sharing and reciprocal obligations among chimpanzees. Human Evolution 18. 433–459.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Ekman, Paul, Wallace V. Friesen & Joseph C. Hager 1978. Facial Action Coding System. Salt Lake City, NE: Research Nexus.Google Scholar

  • Fossey, Diane. 1983. Gorillas in the mist. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar

  • Fouts, Roger S. 1975. Capacities for language in great apes. In Russell H. Tuttle (ed.), Socioecology and psychology of primates, 371–390. The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton.Google Scholar

  • Fouts, Roger S. 1976. Personal communication.Google Scholar

  • Fouts, Roger S. 1994. Transmission of human gestural language in a chimpanzee mother-infant relationship. In R. Allen Gardner, Beatrix T. Gardner, Brunetto Chiarelli & Frans X. Plooj (eds.), The ethological roots of culture, 257–270. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer.Google Scholar

  • Fouts, Roger S. 1997. Next of kin: What chimpanzees have taught me about who we are. New York: Morrow.Google Scholar

  • Fouts, Roger S., Mary Lee A. Jensvold & Deborah H. Fouts 2002. Chimpanzee signing: Darwinian realities and Cartesian delusions. In Marc Bekoff, Colin Allen & Gordon M. Burghardt (eds.), The cognitive animal: Empirical and theoretical perspectives on animal cognition, 285–291. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.Google Scholar

  • Frankl, Viktor E. 1988. Man’s search for meaning. New York: Pocket books.Google Scholar

  • Gamble, Joanne. 2001. Humor in apes. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research 14(2). 163–179.Google Scholar

  • Gardner, Beatrix T. & R. Allen Gardner 1975. Evidence for sentence constituents in the early utterances of child and chimpanzee. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 104. 244–267.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Gardner, Beatrix T. & R. Allen Gardner 1994. Development of phrases in the utterances of children and cross-fostered chimpanzees. In R. Allen Gardner, Beatrix T. Gardner, Brunetto Chiarelli & Frans X. Plooj (eds.), The ethological roots of culture., 223–255. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Kluwer.Google Scholar

  • Gomez, Juan-Carlos & Beatriz Martin-Andrade 2002. Possible precursors of pretend play in nonpretend actions of captive gorillas (Gorilla gorilla). In Robert W. Mitchell (ed.), Pretending and imagination in animals and children, 255–268. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Gomez, Juan-Carlos & Beatriz Martin-Andrade 2005. Fantasy play in apes. In Anthony D. Pellegrini & Peter K. Smith (Eds.), The nature of play: Great apes and humans, 139–172. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar

  • Goodall, Jane. 1975. Personal communication.Google Scholar

  • Goodall, Jane. 1986. The chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

  • Hayes, Catherine. 1951. The ape in our house. Oxford, England: Harper.Google Scholar

  • Hiller, Barbara. 1976. Personal communication.Google Scholar

  • Hillix, William A. & Duane M. Rumbaugh 2004. Animal bodies, human minds: Ape, dolphin, and parrot language skills. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.Google Scholar

  • Hoicka, Elena & Nameera Akhtar 2011. Preschoolers joke with jokers, but correct foreigners. Developmental Science 14(4). 848–858.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Hoicka, Elena & Merideth Gattis 2008. Do the wrong thing: How toddlers tell a joke from a mistake. Cognitive Development 23. 180–190.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Kohler, Wolfgang. 1925. The mentality of apes. New York: Harcourt.Google Scholar

  • Linden, Gordon. 1974. Apes, men and language. New York: Saturday Review Press/Dutton.Google Scholar

  • Matevia, Marilyn L., Francine G. Patterson & Barbara Hillix 2002. Pretend play in a signing gorilla. In Robert W. Mitchell (ed.), Pretending and imagination in animals and Children, 285–304. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Matsuzawa, Tetsuro. 2001. Primate foundations of human intelligence: A view of tool use in nonhuman primates and fossil hominids. In Tetsuro Matsuzawa (ed.), Primate origins of human cognition and behavior, 2–25. New York: Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar

  • McGhee, Paul E. 1979. Humor: Its origin and development. San Francisco, CA: W. H. Freeman & Co.Google Scholar

  • McGhee, Paul E. 2002. Understanding and promoting the development of children’s humor. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt.Google Scholar

  • McGrew, William C. 1989. Why is ape tool using so confusing? In Valerie Standen & Robert A. Foley (eds.), Comparative socioecology: The behavioral ecology of humans and other mammals, 457–472. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications.Google Scholar

  • Miles, H. Lyn. 1994. Language and the orangutan: The “old person” of the forest. In Paola Cavalieri & Peter Singer (eds.), The great ape project: Equality beyond humanity, 42–57. New York: St: Martin’s Press.Google Scholar

  • Mireault, Gina, Merlin Poutre, Mallory Sargent-Hier, Caitlyn Dias, Brittany Perdue & Allison Myrick 2012. Humor perception and creation between parents and 3- to 6-month old infants. Infant and Child Development 21. 338–347.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Mireault, Gina C., Susan C. Crockenberg, John E. Sparrow, Kassandra Cousineau, A. Pettinato Christine & Kelly C. Woodard 2015. Laughing matters: Infant humor in the context of parent affect. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 136. 30–40.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Mireault, Gina C., Susan C. Crockenberg, John E. Sparrow, Christine A. Pettinato, Kelly C. Woodard & Kirsten Malzac 2014. Social looking, social referencing and humor perception in 6- and 12-month-old infants. Infant Behavior and Development 37. 536–545.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Mitchell, Robert W. 1990. A theory of play. In Marc Bekoff & Dale Jamieson (eds.), Interpretation and explanation in the study of animal behavior, (Interpretation, intentionality and communication 1), 197–227. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar

  • Natale, Francesco & Francesco Antinucci 1989. Stage 6 object concept and representation. In Francesco Antinucci (ed.), Cognitive structure and development in nonhuman primates, 97–112. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar

  • Patterson, Francine. 1977. Personal communication.Google Scholar

  • Patterson, Francine. 1986. Language in child, chimp, and gorilla. Gorilla: Journal of the Gorilla Foundation (3).Google Scholar

  • Patterson, Francine. 1989. Koko: Conversations with herself. Gorilla: Journal of the Gorilla Foundation (10).Google Scholar

  • Patterson, Francine. 2005. Personal communication.Google Scholar

  • Patterson, Francine G. & M. M. Kennedy. 1997. Fantasy play. Gorilla: Journal of the Gorilla Foundation 20(2). 8.Google Scholar

  • Patterson, Francine G. & Eugene Linden 1981. The education of Koko. New York: Holt. Winston: Rinehart.Google Scholar

  • Patterson, Francine G. P. & Ronald H. Cohn. 1994. Self-recognition and self-awareness in lowland gorillas. In Sue Taylor Parker, Robert W. Mitchell & Maria Boccia (eds.), Self-awareness in animals and humans: Developmental perspectives, 233–299. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Phillips, Mitzi. 1987. Conversations with Koko. Gorilla: Journal of the Gorilla Foundation (6).Google Scholar

  • Ramsey, Jacklyn K. & William C. McGrew 2005. Object play in great apes. In Anthony D. Pellegrini & Peter K. Smith (eds.), The nature of play: Great apes and humans, 89–112. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar

  • Reddy, Vasudevi. 2001. Infant clowns: The interpersonal creation of humor in infancy. Enfance 53. 247–256.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Reddy, Vasudevi. 2008. How infants know minds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

  • Ruch, Willibald. 1997. State and trait cheerfulness and the induction of exhilaration: A FACS study. European Psychologist 2. 328–341.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Ruch, Willibald & Jennifer Hofmann 2017. Fostering humor. In Carmel Proctor (ed.), Positive psychology interventions in practice, 65–80. New York: Springer.Google Scholar

  • Rumbaugh, Duane M. 1977. Language learning by a chimpanzee: The LANA project. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar

  • Russon, Anne E. 2002. Pretending in free-ranging rehabilitant orangutans. In Robert W. Mitchell (ed.), Pretending and imagination in animals and children, 229–240. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Russon, Anne E., Kim Bard & Sue T. Parker (eds.) 1996. Reaching into thought: The minds of the great apes. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Shanker, Stuart. G. & Barbara. J. King. 2002. The emergence of a new paradigm in ape language research. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 25. 605–620.Google Scholar

  • Shultz, Thomas R. 1976. A cognitive-developmental analysis of humor. In Antony J. Chapman & Hugh C. Foot (eds.), Humour and Laughter: Theory, research and applications, 155–185. London: Wiley.Google Scholar

  • Smith, Peter K. & Anthony D. Pelligrini 2005. Play in great apes and humans. In Anthony D. Pellegrini & Peter K. Smith (eds.), The nature of play: Great apes and humans, 285–298. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar

  • Sroufe, Alan & Jane Piccard Wunsch 1972. The development of laughter in the first year of life. Child Development 43. 1326–1344.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Tanner, Joanne. 1986. Student project helps Koko read. Gorilla: Journal of the Gorilla Foundation (8).Google Scholar

  • Tomasello, Michael, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh & Anne C. Kruger 1993. Imitative learning of actions on objects by children, chimpanzees and enculturated chimpanzees. Child Development 64. 1688–1705.CrossrefGoogle Scholar

  • Van Hooff, J. A. R. A. M. 1972. A comparative approach to the phylogeny of laughter and smiling. In Robert A. Hinde (ed.) Non-verbal communication, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar

  • Vick, Sarah-Jane, Bridget Waller, Lisa Parr, Marcia Smith-Pasqualini & Kim Bard 2006. ChimpFACS: The chimpanzee Facial Action Coding System. http://www.chimpfacs.com

  • Wrangham, Richard W. & Dale Peterson 1996. Demonic males: Apes and the origins of human violence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar

About the article

Published Online: 2018-04-28

Published in Print: 2018-04-25


Citation Information: HUMOR, Volume 31, Issue 2, Pages 405–449, ISSN (Online) 1613-3722, ISSN (Print) 0933-1719, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/humor-2018-0017.

Export Citation

© 2018 Walter de Gruyter GmbH, Berlin/Boston.Get Permission

Comments (0)

Please log in or register to comment.
Log in