Maggie Wittlin in Seed Magazine:
There is a real distinction between authentic laughter, that which is caused by a stimulus, and laughter used to manipulate social situations, say Binghamton University researchers. In fact, these two kinds of laughter may have evolved millions of years apart…
“If you do a literature search on laughter, a lot of the material you’re going to come up with is really about humor,” Provine said. “But humor is really a sort of subcategory of the topic of laughter, instead of vice versa, because laughter is ancient and instinctive, while humor is something of relatively modern origin. So there was laughter long before there was humor.”
The authors begin their evolutionary tale of laughter well before humor came into the mix, arguing that laughter is a more basic function than even language. “Not only does it precede language developmentally…it probably preceded language in terms of evolution,” Wilson said. “So, there was a time in our history when we were laughing before we were talking.”
Laughter-like behavior started before we split from apes, the researchers say. As they tickle each other and horse around, apes give a pant-grunt, which Wilson said is a clear precursor to laughter.