Back in November I did a short interview with popular science website Red Orbit. For some inexplicable reason, I forgot to include it here. It’s quite a bit more ‘sciencey’ than usual.
RO: In very broad strokes, can you describe what we already know about baby laughter and what it can tell us about a child’s cognitive development?
Addyman:The short answer is that we don’t know much. This is largely because laughter is tricky subject to study in the laboratory. People have been speculating about the causes and purposes of early laughter for a long time but there has been very little systematic work. Surprisingly, one of the earliest researchers to take this topic seriously was Charles Darwin. He published a paper on his careful observations of his infant son Doddy. Darwin drew parallels between infant laughter and the playfulness of puppies and kittens.
This baby holds the world record for the first mankind smile, at the age of 5 seconds.
This picture and the accompanying caption have been whizzing round the internet in the last few days. I’m afraid I don’t know where it originally comes from or anything else about it but it is definitely worth sharing.
We are going to be at the Baby Show this weekend. It’s at the ExCel centre in London docklands and runs from Friday 22nd – Sunday 24th Feb. So i imagine it is a huge event. If you are planning on coming, come and find us and say hello.
That was the first time I’ve been on live television but it all happened so fast that I didn’t have much chance to get nervous. I was in a small cupboard in the AP building in Camden but a giant plasma screen behind me showed Big Ben to make it clear that the cupboard was in London.
Sandra Kiume over at ChannelN has a nice video of new research that uses babies smiles to track their development. Here’s what they say about it:
Babies smiling at their mothers, and vice versa, were studied for signs of healthy development using a video facial tracking system.
In one finding, at around six months of age a baby will start to look away from its mother if she’s not smiling at it, which indicates interest in its environment, a normal stage of development. A failure to respond in typical ways may be indicative of developmental disorders like autism, and early detection can lead to early intervention and better outcomes.
It was great fun and hopefully it went well. It went so fast I didn’t really have time to tell. But fortunately this also didn’t give me any time to panic about what I could do wrong on live radio.
Unfortunately, Richard was in Salford while I was in London so I didn’t get to meet him or his mango loving son Arthur. On the plus side, I did get to see inside the BBC’s shiny New Broadcasting House. It is space age.
Thank you to Richard and to all his listeners who have contributed to the project.
As a baby scientist I often get asked ‘What is a baby scientist?’. One answer is that I am a scientist who studies what it is like to be a baby. And what is it like to be a baby? Funnily enough it’s a lot like being a scientist: You start with no idea what is going on but you can out find out is by seeing what other people think and by performing your own experiments.
This might seem a little too cute to be true*. But a lot of baby scientists are taking it seriously. Laura Schultz and Alison Gopnik are both studying how young children’s play is a vital form of experimentation that helps them learn about the world and how it involves them weighing up different possibilities and probabilites. And the really great news about this is that it means rather than trying to teach things to tiny children we should put them in rich and stimulating environments where they can play around and discover things for themselves.
* That’s an occupational hazard when working with babies.
In one of the questions in our survey we ask parents for their theories on what makes their babies laugh. Here are some of their answers. (My favourites highlighted in bold.)
He loves to join in with a shared joke, this is part of a much wider love of participating in shared experiences (eating, activities) so it doesn’t have to be related to laughter. Also one thing I think you forgot is laughter when playing with friends, he and his friends sometimes find each other hysterically funny.
He usually laughs when he sees older children playing,such as when I pick his sister up from nursery, or if he sees a child skipping along in front of him when he’s in the buggy. I’m not sure why, but I find it fascinating!
I think that sometimes he keeps laughing because he is tired…
She only laughs when she is being held not when sitting or lying alone. She laughs in response to playing or tickling
Nothing you forgot but my son seems to be a very social laugher – loves laughing with others and will try to continue laughing even when the real fun or mirth has gone sometimes to continue the moment.
Bonding with siblings
when she achieves something difficult
I think when she understands something, and also because especially at her age, she is getting frustrated that I don’t always understand what she wants – & laughter is such an easy way form of ‘ understandable’ communication. If you know what I mean!
My son laughs whenever I am about to give him a treat (like a cookie). (this might be covered by the “excited” category)
Sometimes laughs as he enjoys having the attention.
She laughs will joy when she is happy. She shows pleasure by laughing when she is in a safe and comfortable environment.
The reason behind why a baby expresses his/her feeling if joy and happiness through laughter is a learnt behaviour through social atmospheres and experiences.
Following his own ‘funny’ action; like closing a book with mum’s finger stuck in it; always worth a laughter
Our baby laughs when she becomes excited. The things that excite her includes being spun around, playing on swings and slides, and being thrown on the bed. Basically, anything that involves the sensation of speed. The prospect of pizza gets her going too.
He laughs a lot – I reckon he just find the whole world very amusing and silly. All these odd things that big people do!
Bouncing games. Rough and tumble play. Blowing raspberries and making funny noises/faces.
social communication; seeing people;
Response to movement, e.g. bouncing
To express genuine comic silliness
She generally laughs when she has accidentally hurt me and I am in pain. To me, that is inappropriate and it makes me feel unfairly treated, but I suppose she is probably laughing at my reaction without properly understanding the context.
He also laughs when his brother does silly things
Because something is out of the ordinary and looks silly to him, like when Daddy dances or the cats accidentally fall over.
She laughs in response to different stimuli and circumstances. Some laughter seems to be more based around communication and bonding – shared silliness. Others seem more physical and related to sensation and surprise (and sometimes nervous tension – eg pretending to drop her)
He loves to copy us all and has an exaggerated laugh for when we laugh at something
She seems to find her sister the most funny.
I think he laughs when he is happy. It is a form of communication.
she also laughs when she’s pleased with herself because she’s mastered a new skill, especially if someone important to her is watching – it’s like she’s overjoyed at how brilliant the world is and how clever she is.
It is often social – in response to other people laughing
I think our baby likes to join in with things, so if we are playing a game that is supposed to be ‘funny’, I think our baby likes to show he understands by reacting in the way that pleases/delights us! But also I think it’s a mixture of excitement at what might happen next in a game mixed with that element of ‘danger’ – his favourite thing is for his Dad to surprise him with a growl when he’s least expecting it.
its easier to laugh than it is to talk , i’ve seen it happen in adults when thay are talking to someone from another country but they don’t really understand what they are saying, so they politely chuckle
Already aware of how to hurt her sister and finds this very funny whn she pulls her hair. A bit like the Charlie video.
The funniest thing to our baby is when someone falls down. She will always laugh at that.
I get the feeling sometimes that he doesn’t laugh as much as other babies–when he is extra happy or excited, for example, he bounces. When he is naughty, he just smiles.
Difficult to say. Seems to be when she’s happy and something just strikes her fancy like the dog. Sometimes Daddy’s kisses on the cheek which would likely be person/sensation, but not much of any other tickling/sensation seems to do it…
when she thinks that we’re playing
I think the two main reasons are to communicate (as when he often laughs when we are sharing a game or in response to an exaggerated stimulus) and as a response to physical pleasure (physical sensation is very important to his laughter – perhaps because he is very physically active and loves to be thrown in the air, etc). He almost never laughs in order to make us laugh, but as a small baby he joined in with our laughter when he did not know what we were laughing about – which is why I think social communication is the key factor.
Spare energy helps. And if she is feeling proud of achieving something and senses approval from us.
Repeating games seem to have a place. She is more likely to laugh if she already knows the game which is about to come.
It pretty much always seems to be pure joy- he’s just so happy! Also, being well rested is VERY important- when he’s not well rested, there’s NO laughter.
When baby laughs along with you he seems pleased and reassured.
In anticipation of a pleasant/funny event, in part because of the joy of knowing what is about to happen
Right now he seems to only laugh at people when they’re paying attention to him and doing something silly or surprising.
This may fall Under a category already, my baby definitely laughs more the more her parents laugh.
she laughs when the unexpected happens. when she does something she knows she’s not supposed to do, or when something surprising happens like boo as mentioned above.
Because she is being engaged with in a fun and exciting way
movement, swinging, dipping moves regular games repeated with songs peekaboo/ “Wheres Emmy?”
My baby laughs because my oher children laugh and he like to be like them
she also seems to know when someone else is being silly and laughs….she’s always laughing and smiling!!
when she ‘gets’ the joke. when we diaper and jump out at her. when the dog licks her
Things other people do. And voice intonation!
Because he’s a hedonist.
To communicate and bond
She laughs in response to anyone who engages her over the last few weeks. She loves people talking to her and smiling
To express pleasure, eg. When he sees a familiar face or someone he likes
He responds to others facial expressions. Even if a stranger smiles at him, he will laugh (although he prefers familiar faces) He also prefers and laughs at voices that are higher in tone.
he laughs when he wakes up early in the morning and his energy levels are very high, mostly when older people give him attention
She likes the feeling of making us laugh (her laughing makes us laugh). Because she has an innate sense of humour – she knew how to tease us without us ever teaching her to our knowledge – eg offering us something and taking it away last minute.
most of the cases above make her smile (especially when something is surprising), rather than laugh as such.. laughs are not that common.. and they are mostly on one to one games, when everyone is in a playful mood, and there were many giggles and smiles before, or she often joins in us laughing about something she does.. having said that she keeps surprising us about what makes her laugh..
Because he independently finds particular things funny
He laughs at anything unexpected, eg me sneezing, dog barking, funny noises, funny faces. He laughs in anticipation of something funny such as being tickled, bounced about, played with etc, and he laughs whilst being physically engaged with, rolled around, tickled, turned upside down, held high in the air etc
Sometimes he laughs for no apparent reason at all. His granny thinks he laughs because he recognises what is a game between him and the caregiver, e.g. repetition of tearing paper or repeating a particular noise.
He seems to find things that are out of place or unusual particularly funny.
She really seems to enjoy it and it gets her lots of attention. We make quite alot of effort to be silly etc to make her laugh. There is alot of laughter around her.
I remember my husband saying that our son laughs when he knows something is socially inappropriate, which sounds incredibly pretentious, but I do think is actually true. He also now roars laughing when he hears us laughing, even if he doesn’t really know what we’re laughing about.
She laughs a lot, and is a very happy baby. I love laughing too and I’m sure its contagious. At least once a day she makes me laugh so much I can’t do anything else, so I think she’s becoming the same.
She often laughs because she wants us to laugh too. Because laughing is fun!
Because he is in a happy environment with parents who love each other and him and his brother
In anticipation of being tickled in this little piggy
When he watches his favourite TV programmes
Mostly because of her older sister
Sometimes he laughs and does funny things such as putting something on his head or pulling a funny face to get a response from others
He laughs because someone is being very animated or excited around him.
Another one: she often laughs when our dog is scared and jumps/runs/barks at a toy. It seems like she thinks he’s doing it to entertain her…
When she can predict that something is going to happen
Our baby seems to laugh when the happiness overwhelms her and just comes bursting out.
Usually there is a high pitched noise like silly singing or funny talking voices, or the dog is being playful with them.
Because she is sleep deprived. (Laughs at everything) Because she is imitating other people who are laughing. (Forced laughter that doesn’t fit context)
Because she is ticklish, or she finds something funny e.g. A funny face or action
He laughs when he is happy. What makes him happy is playing with me and with his father, because playing is spending time together having fun, but also bonding with one another. Playing and laughing are another way to love each other.
he is very secure and confident that he is the centre of the universe and every he does is of great interest and fun
I think my daughter especially likes it when I do something out of character, like use a deeper voice, or put something on my head, or put my glasses on upside down.
it is fun – it is somehow giving him excitment and pleasure
Just to clarify something, I think that my baby’s laughter does communicate to me that he is enjoying himself and that bonds us, but I don’t think that he has that intention as such; I think of that as a beneficial unintentional byproduct
I think she is starting to understand the social part of laughing – especially the “being naughty” part that you listed above.
Strongest response seems to be too siblings.
When baby knows what will happen next- she will laugh before the tickling when doing ’round and round the garden like a teddy bear’ for example. When baby is making the adult do something like jump when playing peepo or make repeat a word by pointing to the same picture repeatedly.
She laughs when she thinks something is funny and when she has accomplished something that makes her feel happy.
His father trained him to laugh at certain things by always laughing himself when they happened. Sneezing, for example – his father always laughed ostentatiously at sneezes (even fake ones), so now that’s hilarious.
K generally laughs when others are laughing, being tickled, or surprised. When she’s happy she babbles to herself and smiles a lot, but doesn’t necessarily laugh.
I think he laughs because he is genuinely happy. I think too he loves to be entertained especially by his daddy. He may not fully understand what is happening, but he knows it is out of the ordinary when Dad starts racing around the room doing MC Hammer dance. It’s funny to me, so I imagine it is equally funny to our baby.
-baby recognize the person face -baby successfully wake the parents up (after a good sleep and morning wake)
when he shows what ejercise can do it
Loves to interact with his siblings, like singing to him or playing games on the floor & just giving him lots of hugs & kisses.
she laugh when listen to the sounds of a music box, scale of 8. When we play with her, the bigger action we do the more excited she gets & laugh hysterical.
I think he tries to communicate with us
when they look at each other they laugh at each other
Our baby laughs when she sees human faces, familiar ones especially. she smiles and laughs the most for mom and dad. She also laughs at her mobile on her crib and other toys that she enjoys looking at especially ones with bright color, lights and music.
se like being tickled
I think it has a lot to do with if the parents (or caregiver) are happy when they’re around their baby. We always have so much fun with her and she seems to be a very happy baby most of the time. And because she’s happy, I think she responds better to the above causes of laughter. I don’t know if she would laugh as much otherwise (but I don’t have any experience to the contrary).
happy and excited
When she is close to something she knows already by books or films, eg. a bird or spider
If you have a care giver that is active the baby responds and learns better. If you have a lazey parent I think the child then becomes lazey minded. And results in delayed reactions. My daughter is a happy child. We have bad days but I notice this is linkd only when we are home all day ( rainy day. Stay in and play but she likes to be out doors. Mainly happier out doors and exploring.
Since he was 2 or 3 months there is a specific term if i say it he start laughing and smiling.
Sometimes my little one laughs when she is tired…. It’s more of a laugh one second, cry/whinge the next
Because they are with mom!
Porque parece una beba muy feliz y sociable
whenever my other kids act silly, or when we play with him, and sometimes he just starts laughing at nothing!
I believe they respond to what they see in their environment. Sometimes she laughs to fit in, like when her mother and I share a laugh.
he enjoys bonding
Because baby knows she’s achieved something – e.g. managed to stand up (while in the process of acquiring this skill)
He seems to be amused by unusual visuals (weird faces, rapid motion) and by new experiences.
My baby laughs specially when he sees someone very close to him. He also laughs a lot when he is being played, e.g peek-a-boo, shoot the ball.
When baby is well rested (in the morning)
my baby at 2mos smiles and gasps when ever he sees his mobile… the toy does not necesarily have to move but when he see it overhead, he smiles and sometimes gets excited. He also smiles when you talk (high-pitched)to him face to face.
sometimes he starts grumping but not crying but sometimes this is fake and he laughs because he knows what he is doing.
when imitating her.
Because life is good, he knows he’s loved and he has no reason not to be extemely happy.
He has already learnt that excited laughs get positive reactions from strangers who stop to say hello to him.
she feels comfortable with the caring that we give her and the love we shows her
From 3 to 8 months it was mainly responding to physical touch and now from 12 to 14 months its much more social, in response to the dog or boo etc
When he realizes we are talking about him. When he sees a toy he likes. Sometimes when we are showing affection–i.e. kisses. When everyone is together (parents, grandparents, dog)
He laughs when he is doing something that he enjoys. Like having his bath. He loves the bath.
Often something new and an element of surprise eg. things she laughed at a few months ago are now not as funny to her because she is used to them. She smiles at the old ladies on the Wonga advert but does not laugh any more.
To cause a reaction and get attention
Sometimes he laughs and I’ve no idea why! I guess he’s just comfortable and happy
My baby laughs as a means to express a feeling of ‘joie de vivre’ and excitement about the world – people, toys, animals, new things etc
tickling- feels good, shared joy – he laughs more if I laugh when I blow a raspberry for instance. I think some things strike him as ridiculous, there is also perhaps an element of naughtiness – e.g. he knows he isn’t meant to be taking his hat off, but pulls it off anyway.
Its a positve noise she can give. Crying is usually to get our attention if she feels she doesn’t have it, but laughter appears to come from sheer joy of having our undived attention
She is a very funny happy baby with a good sense of humour
Silly noises that you make and also mimicking what I am doing
Because she is happy, and her mum and dad laugh alot so she likes to
“danger” and anticipation… 1, 2, 3 and whoosh in the air- on count of 2 he knows what to expect and starts giggling
Been happy and trying to communitcate that she’s happy and likes me talking to her.
Because she is getting attention. She likes to have the same action repeated over and over; for example I tap her nose with my finger and say “nosenosenosenose” and it kills her. Then I’ll do it again, but after a little pause. She likes to know something is coming, but not to know quite when.
She is happy. She says to us often “I am happy”
pleasure of the intensity of attention (especially one to one) pleasure of anticipation – knowing what might come next pleasure of something fun that is repeated in a build up of feelings encouraged by her feedback until it reaches a peak of enjoyment. pleasure of feeling safe and protected yet being thrilled – e.g. holding her in my arms, pretending to shake then drop her down towards the floor. pleasure of discovering they are now able to do some kind of movement such as bouncing on a trampoline. love of participation – seeing and joining in with someone else laughing and having fun – particularly with her sister as she can relate to her being a “small person” and also her sister is so expressive when she is having fun.
I think it feels good, and is a pleasant physical response to a mental trigger.
almost never cries, gets up laughing, the sight of a picture on the wall or a black spot especially if it causes laughter, laughs at any comment as long as we show a smile
To make family members laugh.
My baby appears to laugh when she is happy or joking around
Some of the above might apply more if he was older.
His prompts for laughter seems change over time. At 2+ months he thought it was hilarious when I would wiggle his arms. Later the same trick worked with his feet. By 3 months shaking my hair was the trick. Now at 3 and 1/2 he seems to enjoy light tickling with a laugh.
Because he cannot conceal his joy/excitement yet, so laughs because he is about to do something that he will enjoy. Sometimes we can guess what he is about to do from the situation and the fact that he has begum to laugh spontaneously.
there is a physicality to her laughter. She laughs a lot when my husband pretends to drop her. You could say it is a reaction to fear but she doesn’t seem frightened at all, it is more an exhilaration than anything else.
she laughs from fear/surprise and it turns out not to be – chasing her or boo.
i still cant work him out. I try to make him laugh – sometimes I can and some times despite him being really happy and playful…no. he though another baby sneezing the other day was hysterical but not since!
special satisfied comforted and funny moments
Pretty much all of the above, loves silly noises and faces too, especially when his sister is doing it
When their father gets home they see him they laugh a lot, also when they both want to do mischiefs they will laugh together, call each other and do it, if we tell them not to do it they will repeat “no,no,no” smile and do it again even though we could have a serious face. They always do that say “no no” when they a Ready know they should not do it but will try to smiling or laughing and do it again