Hair-pulling and body slamming: Apes enjoy teasing each other, scientists find

Credit: PA

Great apes enjoy playfully teasing one another, just like humans, scientists have found.

Chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans were analysed by an international team of researchers, who filmed the apes pulling each others' hair, poking one another and body slamming other members of their group, as well as waving objects in their faces.

The teasing was typically done by one ape who was trying to playfully provoke a response or attract the target's attention.

Scientists found similarities between ape and human teasing, with elements of surprise and play featuring in both.

Gorillas have been seen displaying playful behaviour similar to humans. Credit: PA

They said the findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society Biological Sciences, suggest that playful teasing and joking may have evolved in our human ancestors around 13 million years ago.

Great apes engage in social play, laughter and display relatively sophisticated understandings of others' expectations, Dr Isabelle Laumer, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour (MPI-AB) said.

“We hope that our study will inspire other researchers to study playful teasing in more species in order to better understand the evolution of this multi-faceted behaviour,” she added.

Researchers said their study is the first to systematically document and analyse playful teasing in primates.

Hair-pulling, poking and body slamming were among the behaviours filmed by researchers. Credit: PA

The research involved trawling through 75 hours of video footage featuring nine bonobos, four orangutans, and four gorillas at San Diego Zoo in California, and 17 chimpanzees at Leipzig Zoo in Germany.

The team focused on one juvenile, aged between three and five, from each species.

They counted a total of 284 potential teasing events, of which 129 were considered playful or provocative behaviour.

Teasing mostly happened when the apes were relaxed, the scientists said, which is similar to humans.

Teasing behaviour can be seen in human babies as early as eight months of age, researchers have found, and it is thought to be a "cognitive precursor" to joking.

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