Laura Van Mulders

Research interests

After a bachelor in Linguistics and in French literature at the University of Geneva, I am completing a master degree in Cognitive Science at the University of Neuchâtel. I am primarily interested in non-human communication systems and pragmatics, and am currently conducting my master’s project and internship with Dr. Emilie Genty and Profs. Klaus Zuberbühler and Adrian Bangerter.

The project aims at investigating and comparing potential intentional uses of laughter in bonobos, chimpanzees and humans in play contexts, conceived as a form of joint, cooperative and coordinated action. Laughter appears to bear clear communicative advantages like reducing the risks of aggressive behavior or facilitating interactions, but the question of whether it is under apes’ voluntary control remains to this day an open question. As such, formulating the hypothesis that laughter in nonhuman primates can be used  intentionally to boost these functions, we expect laughter to occur at precise moments of the interaction, like at transition between phases e.g. to enter the main body (the business of the interaction), or when resuming the joint action after an interruption. We also hypothesize that the presence, frequency and sharedness of laughter may vary according to different social factors such as rank or bond strength, with the expectation that more submissive individuals will tend to laugh more when interacting with more dominant ones, and close individuals to laugh more together than when interacting with less familiar individuals. We will also investigate whether laughter varies according to the type of play (chase/contact play).