The surprisingly serious science of laughing babies Caspar Addyman, Birkbeck Babylab
The laughter of little babies is infectious, enchanting and may play an important role in their early development. Yet it was largely overlooked by science. Caspar conducted a large global survey of new parents to discover what makes their babies laugh (http://babylaughter.net). In this talk Caspar presents the results of his research and shows how it reveals a serious and important purpose to this delightful behaviour.
There were lots of other great talks in Birkbeck Science week. You can find links to them here. I particularly recommend Katarina Begus’ talk about the importance of curiosity to babies
The full academic write up will be even longer time coming, but for now here’s a quick summary. A total of 1300 parents completed the survey from 69 countries. A further 700 started the survey but never finished it (presumably interrupted by their babies.)
Babies first smile around 1.5 months and first laugh around 3.5 months. But with some individual variation.
Laughter starts social, babies laugh at/with people not things
Most things get funnier with age
Babies think mummy and daddy are equally funny
Parents think boys laugh more than girls
Peekaboo is universally popular but tickling most reliable way get a baby to laugh
Babies are moral and don’t laugh at other people falling over, so Freud was wrong that child laugh is based on superiority or schadenfreude!
Tiny Nina is only 11 weeks old but she’s already getting in on the family jokes. Here we see her laughing at the antics of her 4 year old brother. Who is, of course, more than willing to play the fool. Also present and enjoying themselves are her mother and her grandmother.
This nicely illustrates how laughter is universal across generations. A more subtle point than you might imagine. The cognitive differences between a 4 year old and a baby is just as dramatic as between an adult and a child. There’s an equal gulf to bridge. But whereas we adults can make a conscious effort to come down to a child’s level. It is beyond the sophistication of pre-schooler to act so deliberately. But they do have an intuitive ability to empathise and connect with tiny babies (and pets).
Making his little sister laugh is tremendously empowering for the four year old. He knows he is also gaining kudos from his mother and grandmother. No wonder he’s happy and laughing along too.
Nina is still too young to appreciate that she’s make the others laugh but she isn’t too young to connect with them. She’s laughing with her brother not at him. She’s laughing precisely because he’s very familiar to her. So the strange things he’s doing aren’t scary. As Darwin perceptively noted, a baby who laughs when a loved one tickles them would burst into tears if the same was done by a stranger.
Thanks to Nina and her whole family for the video.
New born babies – Handle With Care is an entertaining instructional by animator, director and first-time father Jun Iwakawa. New parents are confronted with an overwhelming amount of advice at a time when they are already overwhelmed by the little alien that has just landed in their lives. No doubt that is how Jun Iwakawa felt at first. But he and his new family survived without losing their sense of humour.
Our latest laughing baby comes from Naveen and features his wife gently teasing his five month old son Daksh:
In this video, my son (Daksh) is featured. every time his mom scares him to eat him away, he innocently laughs at her. This is so cute. On a hindsight, I tend to think that our lives should be like a kid’s life which is free from worries, and is innocent, cute and always happy.
I quite agree that it would be wonderful if we could retain some of the sheer joy that babies possess. It is not alway easy but fortunately, laughing babies help us laugh too.
Thank you , Naveen and much happiness to you, your wife and son.
I’m a psychologist working at Birkbeck Babylab studying how babies learn about the world. Recently, I’ve been looking at what makes them laugh. So going ‘ooh’ (and ‘aah’) is quite a big part of the job.
The reason I study babies is because that is the point in our lives when we are learning the most, learning the fastest and having to learn everything from scratch, for ourselves without the slightest idea what the hell is going on. It isn’t any wonder that babies are bursting into tears all the time. Poor mites.
But this is also why it is interesting to investigate what makes them laugh. Baby laughter is the opposite of baby tears. Tears tell us that they don’t like or don’t understand what is currently happening. By contrast, baby laughter is the sound of baby triumph. Just like us, they laugh when they get the joke. And often it’s for the very first time. Baby laughs are little eurekas. These are tiny scientists confirming their own theories.
Just as interesting is the effect that baby laughter has on adults. As youtube proves, it’s like catnip. When babies laugh we can’t help laughing too and this is incredibly valuable to babies. Above all else laughter is social and the most complicated thing in the world to understand is other people. When laugh with babies and in doing so give them our undivided attention and they can learn from us.
I ran a global survey asking parents all around the world what made their babies laugh (http://babylaughter.net ) and i’m currently trying to bring the study into the lab comparing contagious laughter and contagious yawns.
The best bit for me is that apparently this is a real job
Danielle Batist has written a wonderful article on Mary Gordon‘s Roots of Empathy programme. A scheme which brings tiny babies into primary classrooms for children to learn from them:
In thousands of schools around the world, children between the ages of five and twelve take lessons from a new-born baby. The result? Increased emotional intelligence, understanding and empathy towards classmates, and less bullying and aggression.
It looks like an ordinary Year 5 classroom in the Lucas Vale Primary School in the London borough of Lewisham. Colourful posters and artwork cover the walls and hang from the ceilings. A group of 10- and 11-year-olds talk and laugh as they get up from their desks. A woman walks in with a baby in her arms and immediately the chatter dies down. The children gather around a green blanket and burst into a welcome song: “Hello baby Sienna, how are you, how are you today?”
It’s a fantastic project and one that I hadn’t come across before. It’s such a good idea that you can’t help believing in it. But it seems all the more remarkable for the efforts that are being taken to scientifically assess its benefit.
Babies’ Minds Part of The Truth About Life and Death First broadcast: Wednesday 09 July 2014
Tiny babies are, from birth, active learners. They don’t wait for the world to come to them. Claudia Hammond explores the very latest research about what influences the developing mind of the new born infant. Dr Caspar Addyman from the Babylab at Birkbeck, University of London, describes the biggest ever internet survey of babies’ laughter, which concludes that babies really do get the joke.