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Study: Baboons Love NPR, Hate Dane Cook Movies
CHICAGO (CAP) - Scientists out to trace the roots of human laughter have discovered that not only do baboons have a laugh reflex very similar to that of humans, but they have a particular fondness for certain types of comedy, such as the National Public Radio programs Prairie Home Companion and Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me.
Marlena Roth of the University of Chicago carried out a detailed analysis of the sounds made by 21 baboons when they were exposed to various humorous stimuli. Roth said researchers were surprised to see that the mere sound of Prairie host Garrison Keillor's voice would send the monkeys into spasms of riotous laughter.
"When he did his original story about working in a scullery, I quite frankly thought they were going to wet themselves," Roth said.
They also laughed hysterically at Wait Wait scorekeeper Carl Kassell's recreation of quotes from the week's news, such as when he did an impression of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor using an authentic Puerto Rican accent. "Several of the monkeys actually seemed to be high-fiving each other over that one," said Roth.
They also guffawed over Wait Wait panelist Roy Blount Jr.'s homespun southern aphorisms and Paula Poundstone's impromptu non sequiturs, although they seemed perplexed by host Peter Sagal's multiple references to Star Trek, and panelist Mo Rocca's incessant begging for hints on the questions prompted them to touch themselves inappropriately.
The baboons even laughed consistently at episodes of NPR's Car Talk, even though few of them had ever actually been in a car, much less driven one.
Researchers say evidence of the baboons' discerning nature when it comes to humor was also evident in what they didn't laugh at. For instance, the Dane Cook movies My Best Friend's Girl and Good Luck Chuck were met with a stony silence by the primates.
"A few of them snickered [at Good Luck Chuck] when Dane Cook got shocked by the jumper cables, but that was about it," said Roth.
And clips of the talking baby from the E*TRADE commercials actually elicited a violent reaction from the baboons, several of whom attacked the screen in an apparent attempt to maul the child. They had to be tranquilized before they would give up their assault, even after the television was a smoking ruin.
But Roth said the fact that the monkeys tended to prefer so-called "highbrow" humor probably didn't point to advanced intelligence, and may have been a coincidence. For instance, they also laughed at Fresh Air host Terry Gross's interview with financial market regulation expert Frank Partnoy.
"And that was really only marginally funny," admitted Roth.
She did say that far more troubling was the fact that there are so many humans who are willing to sit through movies like Good Luck Chuck. "Although I suppose they might just want to watch it because of all the naked boobs," she said. "I noticed several of the lab assistants high-fiving during those parts."