Chimps can vary their smiles like humans

The video clip shows laughter and social play in male chimps.

A new study has revealed that chimpanzees have the same types of smiles as humans when laughing, which suggests these smile types evolved from positive expressions of ancestral apes.

The new findings from the University of Portsmouth suggest that chimpanzees’ communication is more similar to humans than was previously known.

The research also found that chimpanzees are able to produce these smile types silently, without being constrained by the accompanying laughing sound.

Chimpanzees have the same types of smiles as humans when laughing

Chimpanzees have the same types of smiles as humans when laughing

Lead researcher, Dr Marina Davila-Ross, is from the University’s Centre for Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology. Dr Davila-Ross and colleagues study the facial expressions of primates to uncover the evolutionary origins of human laughter and smiling.

She said: “Humans have the flexibility to show their smile with and without talking or laughing. This ability to flexibly use our facial expressions allows us to communicate in more explicit and versatile ways, but until now we didn’t know chimps could also flexibly produce facial expressions free from their vocalizations.”

The researchers filmed 46 chimpanzees at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage and used ChimpFACS – a facial action coding system designed for chimpanzees – to measure their facial movements.

Co-author on the paper, Professor Kim Bard, who designed ChimpFACS, said: “The coding system allows us to examine very subtle facial movements and compare human and chimpanzee facial expressions, based on their shared musculature.”

The study investigated specific types of smiles that accompany laugh sounds and found that these smile types have the same evolutionary origin as human smiles when they are laughing. It suggests that these smile types of humans must have evolved from positive expressions of ancestral apes.

The study further suggests that flexibility in facial expressions was already present in ancestral apes and emerged long before humans evolved.

Dr Davila-Ross said there are still key differences between humans and our ape ancestors.

She said: “Chimps only rarely display crow’s feet when laughing, but this trait is often shown by laughing humans. Then, it is called Duchenne laughter, which has a particularly positive impact on human listeners.”

The paper’s co-authors are Professor Kim Bard and Jade Osbourne, also of the University of Portsmouth, and Goncalo Jesus of University College London. The research is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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