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January 16, 2024 4 mins

Neanderthals were more like us than we previously thought, but could they laugh? Learn why researchers think they could in this classic episode of BrainStuff, based on this article: https://science.howstuffworks.com/life/evolution/yes-neanderthals-could-laugh.htm

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Welcome to Brainstuff, a production of iHeartRadio. Hey Brainstuff, Lauren
vogel Bomb here with another classic episode for you. In
this one, we look into a curious question about our
hominid cousins, the Neanderthals. Could they laugh? Hey brain Stuff,
Lauren vogel Bomb here For millennia, humans and Neanderthals or

(00:25):
Neanderthals if you prefer coexisted in Europe and Eurasia. You've
probably heard about it because apparently they all had sex,
and now you might have around two percent Neanderthal DNA
in your genome. It's a whole thing. So we know
there might have been some Neanderthal slash modern human romance.
But did they have any laughs together? Well, that mostly

(00:45):
depends on whether Neanderthals could laugh. It's a tricky question, though,
because what would Neanderthals have laughed at. We modern humans
laugh at all sorts of things. Depending on who you are.
It's equally possible to go fall at kittens playing as
it is to giggle over an about chemical engineering, if
that's what you're into. We know even less about Neanderthal
theory of mind than we do about our own, but

(01:07):
there's evidence that the idea that they were intellectually inferior
to modern humans is bogus, and though we don't rightly
know what would have tickled them, a research on the
evolution of laughter supports the idea that Neanderthals were most
likely air to a glorious legacy of chuckles. That's because
other great apes laugh. In fact, laughter in our phylogenetic

(01:28):
corner of the world is estimated to have evolved between
ten and sixteen million years ago. It most likely evolved
from the labored breathing that happens when you're playing or
being tickled. Spontaneous laughter is something we all do within
the first couple months of life, even in babies born
deaf or blind. The main goal of laughter seems to
be to create and maintain social bonds. We know Neanderthals

(01:51):
lived in small family groups, so although they might not
have needed to have the social smarts to yucket up
at a comedy club, given their lifestyle, laughter probably would
have been beneficial to them, just as it is to
us or a chimpanzee. But a lot goes into laughter,
and the question of whether or not Neanderthals could laugh
has two parts, the first having to do with the
ability of the Neanderthal voice to produce the sound, and

(02:14):
the second with whether or not they have the cognitive
ability to find things funny. According to doctor Philip Lieberman,
Professor Emeritus in the Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological
Sciences at Brown College, Neanderthals definitely had all the vocal
equipment required to laugh. Neanderthals had a vocal setup very
similar to humans, a larynx or voice box, supported by

(02:36):
a delicate horseshoe shaped bone called the hyoid. Lieberman explained,
the larynx produces acoustic energy that causes the vocal chords
of the larynx to open and close, and the super
laryngeal vocal tract. The space between the lips and the larynx,
changes shape with movement in the lips, tongue, and jaw
to make a kind of malleable organ pipe that helps

(02:56):
us make vowel and constant sounds. We share all this
vocal equipment with Neanderthals, so it stands to reason that
their laugh would be similar to our own. The only
difference of opinion among researchers here centers around whether the
Neanderthal's speaking voice was lower or higher than that of
a modern human. So with that settled, the next big
question is whether Neanderthals had the ability to find things

(03:18):
funny enough to laugh at them. According to Lieberman and
some recent research, it's very likely, he said. Epigenetic evidence
now shows that Neanderthal brains could execute complex motor acts.
This means that Neanderthals could talk and had language. As
long as their brains could control the complex gestures that
human speech entails, they definitely could have laughed. Today's episode

(03:47):
is based on the article Yes Neanderthals could laugh on
how Stuffworks dot Com, written by Jesslyn Shields. Brain Stuff
is production by Heart Radio in partnership with how stuffworks
dot Com and is produced by Tyler Laying. For more
podcasts heart Radio, visit the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or
wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

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