I did a short interview with Kate Gammon at the excellent new baby science blog Kinderlab.
Infant laughter typically been ignored by the scientific community, says Caspar Addyman, these early laughs could be a window into the way infants start communicating with the world.
“Babies can laugh long before they can talk, so perhaps laughter has a more important role being one of the earliest forms of back and forth communication,” he says.
Addyman is a research fellow who runs the Baby Laughter project at Birkbeck, University of London. He began to think about baby laughter after looking around his family: his brother is a stand-up comedian, and his sister just had a baby. “I’d been doing research with babies for 8 years, and in the lab we sort of miss out on laughter. Most of the time we’re trying to bore babies to tears a little bit, and making a baby laugh is one of the best things about a baby,” says Addyman.
more at Spit-up Night at the Improv | Popular Science.
I wasn’t very on the ball when she called me up but Kate has done a great job of turning my confused rambling into clever sounding quotes. Her blog has only been running for a short while but it has already set a high standard in communicating cutting edge research on the mysteries of infancy. So it was a pleasure and an honour for our project to be featured.
Although the biggest mystery is how she manages to combine writing such an excellent blog with raising a brand new baby of her own.
After my comments about the ‘DIY baby’ I think it is worth redressing the balance. Babies spend a lot of time teaching themselves how to walk, talk and throw food on the floor. But parents spend even more time being parents.
I wouldn’t normally post these kind of things as there’s not very sciencey and this one has some ridiculous faults. For one thing, it would have been nicer to include all parents. The category “Stay at home moms” is clearly a marketing term more meaningful to advertisers than it is to parents. And don’t even get me started on the absurdity of panel 2 . But I do like the fact that they do at least try to justify their statistics and they point out that parents are psychologists.
The recent BBC coverage of our project has lead to some interesting questions from parents. Not being a parent myself, I can only give the ‘sciencey’ answer but hopefully this provides a clue
Having watched your recent news piece with respect to baby laughter I was intrigued by your comments on peek-a-boo whereby it is a ‘nice surprise’.Our child, now 9 months old, has enjoyed peek-a-boo since she was 6 months old, but rather than us playing ‘it’ – she does! She pulls a rug in front of herself, or drops her head so her face is hidden, then raises to raise a laugh from us!
I wondered if you had any theories on what this might mean for her development?
Obviously, I don’t know your anything about your daughter so I can’t give you a proper answer to your question. But I think I can safely say that it illustrates two important and overlooked facts that are true of all babies. Firstly, every baby follows a different path through development and secondly, this is because they are mostly teaching themselves as they go along.
We give babies credit for their physical development because it is easy to see their determined efforts and trial and error as they first learn to turn over, then clumsily crawl before pulling themselves up slowly but surely into a triumphant if teetering walk. Not all babies start to crawl or walk at the same time but usually this variation has very little to do with slow or advanced development. Most of the variation comes because different babies have different quite random priorities. It might not occur to one particular baby to try walking because they are currently focused on communication or manipulating objects. And vice versa.
The same processes happen just as much in their social and mental development but we can’t easily see it. Babies experiment with language and with things around them. I think your daughter taking the lead when playing peek-a-boo might be an example of this. She has discovered a new skill for herself and is experimenting with it with your assistance. Peek-a-boo is partly about surprise but it is just as much about social interaction and turn-taking. There are a lot of things a baby can learn from simple games like this and they are pretty boundless in their curiosity.
Here’s another example. Psychologist Deb Roy kitted out his whole house in cameras and filmed the first few years of his son’s life. He found that learning new words takes a LOT of practice.The second video in this article gives you a sense of just how much practice a baby does before getting things right. (learning the word ball.)
Hope that kind of answers your question
If any one else has any other questions please contact me here or on twitter @BrainStraining. I will have a go at answering them.
The baby laughter project was featured on the BBC News site today. So if you saw us there, thank you for visiting our site. If you didn’t you can follow the links at the end to see their video and article about us.
Either way, we hope you like the laughing babies and will share your own stories of what makes your babies laugh the most. Better yet send us your laughing baby videos. It’s for science!
Here is the full video of baby Dominic that was featured in the film:
Here you can read about why he’s a world record holder.
I am pleased to say that the first scientific write up of our research has been published in the journal Comedy Studies.
The science of baby laughter
Caspar Addyman & Ishbel Addyman
The Baby Laughter Project (http://babylaughter.net) is a research program in developmental psychology that uses online surveys and parent submitted videos to study baby laughter. We discuss how infant laughter has been neglected in the study of both humour and of developmental psychology. We describe our surveys and research methodology, together with some of the questions we hope they can address. Some preliminary results are presented together with illustrative comments from parents who took part. These results show that the topics of infant laughter track other cognitive developments, that it is an important form of communication and bond between parent and child and a marker of social and emotional engagement. We conclude by suggesting that the highly important role of laughter in early development has until now been underestimated.
Download PDF - 239k
Addyman, C., & Addyman, I. (2013). The science of baby laughter. Comedy Studies, 4(2), 143–153. doi:10.1386/cost.4.2.143_1
Happiness isn’t just for humans..
The 35 Happiest Moments In Animal History (Buzzfeed)
Tickled pink (Photo credit: Mrs. Jenny Ryan)
Did all comedy arise from tickling games played with babies? Aaron Schuster draws attention to this theory in a long and surprisingly serious essay on the philosophy of tickling. Psychologist and adult laughter expert Robert Provine has speculated that the anticipation of a tickle might have been the first ever ‘joke’:
Linking tickling not only with humorous laughter but also with the prehistoric birth of comedy, Provine writes: “I forge recklessly into the paleohumorology fray, proposing my candidate for the most ancient joke—the feigned tickle. (Real tickling is disqualified because of its reflexive nature.) The ‘I’m going to get you’ game of the threatened tickle is practiced by human beings worldwide and is the only joke that can be told equally well to a baby human and a chimpanzee. Both babies and chimps ‘get’ this joke and laugh exuberantly.”
[Novelist and polymath] Arthur Koestler anticipated this hypothesis in his wide-ranging study The Act of Creation:
Thus tickling a child will call out a wriggling and squirming response. But the child will laugh only—and this is the crux of the matter—if an additional condition is fulfilled: it must perceive the tickling as a mock attack, a caress in a mildly aggressive disguise. This explains why people laugh only when tickled by others but not when they tickle themselves. …
The mechanism is essentially the same as in comic impersonation: the tickler impersonates an aggressor, but is simultaneously known not to be one. It is probably the first situation encountered in life which makes the infant live on two planes at once, the first delectable experience in bisociation—a foretaste of pleasures to come at the pantomime show, of becoming a willing victim to the illusions of the stage, of being tickled by the horror-thriller.
via CABINET // A Philosophy of Tickling.
It’s an interesting theory and, of course, one that we will never be able to prove or disprove. But I, for one, love the idea that the giggles of ancient protohuman babies provoked the invention of comedy.
Thanks, ancient babies!
We are starting a new study at Birkbeck Babylab.
We are writing to share some exciting news with you. We are launching our next phase of the Babysibs study called STAARS (Studying Autism and ADHD Risk in Siblings) to understand the early development of infants at risk for developmental disorders such as autism or ADHD.
We are particularly looking for families who are expecting a new baby or have an infant younger than 5 months and an older child with autism/ASD and/or ADHD to participate.
If you or anyone you know would be interested in learning more, you can visit our new website www.staars.org or call Janice on 0207 079 0761.
We look forward to meeting you.
Some research for grown ups.
Pocket Smile is part of my PhD project at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, exploring if looking at smiling faces throughout the day can increase happiness! Have you ever noticed how many smiles are started by other smiles? Just like yawning, smiling is contagious. Pocket Smile is an iOS app that shows you smiling faces throughout the day and tracks mood changes with monthly questionnaires. You can join the experiment by downloading the free Pocket Smile app from iTunes today!
HOW IT WORKS:
-After a quick sign up, you choose how many faces to see per day and the app will send you a notification when the smiles are ready for viewing.
-You give the faces a quick glance and go about your day normally.
-Once a month, you answer the mood questions again to track any changes and the data is securely and anonymously sent to UCL servers as long as you keep participating.
FIND OUT MORE:
Visit www.pocketsmile.icn.ucl.ac.uk for more information on this experiment supported by University College London and the Wellcome Trust, including news and updates.
If you can’t participate because you don’t have an iOS device, you can still support the experiment by liking and sharing Pocket Smile on Facebook and following us on Twitter #PocketSmileApp.
ION Awareness group