Contributed by Marielle Grenade-Willis
In Inside Animal Hearts and Minds, Belinda Recio introduces us to Jaak Panksepp, a neuroscientist who has spent the good majority of his career tickling rats. He found that rats emit a chirp that can be understood as the equivalent to a human laugh right before they are about to play. This chirp intensified in degree when the rats were tickled, especially around their necks. “It turns out that the nape area is where rats tend to play-bite when they wrestle and chase one another, so it may have evolved into an especially ticklish spot.” During these funny studies, Panksepp also came to realize that “rats who chirped the most played the most; and chirping rats preferred the company of other rats who chirped. Further, when it came to romance, female rats preferred cheerful, chirping mates to more serious and sober suitors.” This research goes to show that even the tiniest of mammals have capabilities that foster positive play and mutual social interaction!