"Laughing" rats and the evolutionary antecedents of human joy?

Jaak Panksepp*, Jeff Burgdorf

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

365 Scopus citations


Paul MacLean's concept of epistemics - the neuroscientific study of subjective experience - requires animal brain research that can be related to predictions concerning the internal experiences of humans. Especially robust relationships come from studies of the emotional/affective processes that arise from subcortical brain systems shared by all mammals. Recent affective neuroscience research has yielded the discovery of play- and tickle-induced ultrasonic vocalization patterns (∼50-kHz chirps) in rats may have more than a passing resemblance to primitive human laughter. In this paper, we summarize a dozen reasons for the working hypothesis that such rat vocalizations reflect a type of positive affect that may have evolutionary relations to the joyfulness of human childhood laughter commonly accompanying social play. The neurobiological nature of human laughter is discussed, and the relevance of such ludic processes for understanding clinical disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), addictive urges and mood imbalances are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)533-547
Number of pages15
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2003


  • Addictions
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorders
  • Joy
  • Laughter
  • Mood disorders
  • Rats
  • Ultrasonic vocalizations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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