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Where Does Laughter Come From?

"Where Does Laughter Come From?" artwork. Cartoon of gorilla laughing.


NGSS Standards:



Crosscutting Concepts:

Systems and System Models

Transcript-Where Does Laughter Come From
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How do you find out why we laugh? With tickling, of course! Gorillas and other great apes appear to love being tickled, and sound like they’re laughing just like us. Animal biologist Marina Davila-Ross thought tickling might connect humans and great apes - and hold the clues to the origin of laughter. To find out, she assembled teams of ticklers in an experiment full of giggles. It’s the silliest science you’ve ever heard, but the discoveries will blow your mind.


Dr. Marina Davila-Ross compares animal and human behaviors to understand communication, emotions, and how we think. It all started with her love for animals. She also studied acoustics, or the science of sound, to interpret the sounds that animals make. Her work is very unique, and also super fun!

She's a basically a professional animal tickler. Here she is at work! Tough job but someone's gotta do it.

Photo of Dr. Marina Davila-Ross tickling a monkey,

When Marina's not tickling, she also enjoys listening to recordings of laughter.

"I have lots of videos and sound recordings. I listen to them over and over again because it's just so, so much fun and also really interesting from a researcher's perspective," she told us. "But many times, I just listened to them because they are so enjoyable."

Here's a video of a gorilla being tickled (not by Marina) at a gorilla rescue center.

Learn more about Marina's research:


Many scientists are studying the evolution and use of laughter, in many different ways.

Neuroscientist Sophie Scott did a TED talk about why we laugh.

Our friend Joe from It's Okay to Be Smart asked the same question, too (with some killer science puns):

See what happens when you tickle a rat with National Geographic:

And the Smithsonian covers a study found 65 other animals that laugh.

There are so many great science questions to ask about laughter! What are yours?


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