The Kea's Laughter Makes Other Birds Laugh Too

Regardless of your opinion of TV shows with laugh tracks, studies show that adding canned laughter after a joke makes people more likely to laugh along with it. That's because laughter, like other human emotions, is contagious. A few other mammals have demonstrated infectious emotion, too, but the kea of New Zealand is the first non-mammal species to show contagious emotion. When one kea "laughs," other keas laugh too.

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Just A Fun Lovin' Bird

The kea is a pretty delightful bird. The highly intelligent parrots play constantly, performing acrobatics in the air, tossing objects from one to another, wrestling each other, and frequently playing solo by manipulating objects with their beaks or feet. "Although it is important not to anthropomorphize animal behavior, it is very clear to anyone working or living with kea that they are intelligent, social, and take pleasure in playing with each other—much like we see in other cognizant species, including ourselves," kea conservationist Tamsin Orr-Walker told National Geographic.

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Smile And The World Smiles With You

Scientists noticed that kea made a specific warbling sound when they were playing, and they wondered if it could be spread among other birds of their species the way laughter is spread among humans. To find out, the researchers recorded the sounds kea make when they're playing, plus other calls made by kea and birds of other species. Then they ventured out and played the calls for wild kea.

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Sure enough, when either male or female kea heard the play warble, they spontaneously started to play themselves, either with the bird next to them or on their own. They didn't do the same thing with the other calls. The researchers concluded that this particular warble seemed to be "acting as a positive emotional contagion"—in other words, kea laughter is downright infectious.

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Written by Curiosity Staff April 11, 2017

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