Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – and bonding

Okay, first I just have to get it out of the way that Frans de Waal is a giant hippie. Big ol’ bio-anth hippie! The article I’m posting below undoubtedly reflects that. BUT, if you look past the hippiness, I think he’s onto something.

Okay, cue posting of Discover Magazine, general audience article about bonobos:

What intrigues me most about laughter is how it spreads. It’s almost impossible not to laugh when everybody else is. There have been laughing epidemics, in which no one could stop and some even died in a prolonged fit. There are laughing churches and laugh therapies based on the healing power of laughter. The must-have toy of 1996—Tickle Me Elmo—laughed hysterically after being squeezed three times in a row. All of this because we love to laugh and can’t resist joining laughing around us. This is why comedy shows on television have laugh tracks and why theater audiences are sometimes sprinkled with “laugh plants”: people paid to produce raucous laughing at any joke that comes along.

The infectiousness of laughter even works across species. Below my office window at the Yerkes Primate Center, I often hear my chimps laugh during rough-and-tumble games, and I cannot suppress a chuckle myself. It’s such a happy sound. Tickling and wrestling are the typical laugh triggers for apes, and probably the original ones for humans. The fact that tickling oneself is notoriously ineffective attests to its social significance. And when young apes put on their play face, their friends join in with the same expression as rapidly and easily as humans do with laughter.

Shared laughter is just one example of our primate sensitivity to others. Instead of being Robinson Crusoes sitting on separate islands, we’re all interconnected, both bodily and emotionally. This may be an odd thing to say in the West, with its tradition of individual freedom and liberty, but Homo sapiens is remarkably easily swayed in one emotional direction or another by its fellows.

Read the full article. I’ll wait.

Okay, are you back? Good.

I think he has a good point. There are lots of other data that really point out to me how important it is to have other individuals around, how much we learn from them, and how it’s hard for us to be the “lone wolf” (which doesn’t actually exist either, but that’s a different post all together).

The first type of play that humans participate in is imitating their moms and dads. Smiling at them, opening and closing their mouth the same way they do. Kids learn by mimicking and playing, trying the same stuff those around them do.

I don’t know if you need to go so far as to call it the new field of “embodied” cognition, but it is important to acknowledge that that part of us as social creatures definitely exists, and that basically, no man is an island. This is being re-shown every day.