I don’t know who Tom Fletcher is but he has blue hair and makes babies laugh so what’s not to love?
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
This is baby Ben at six months old. He’s laughing at a teddy bear that was moving around in front of him. The video was sent in by his mum Emily. Thanks to Emily and Ben.
Many of the videos submitted to the Baby Laughter project suggests that babies find dogs much more funny than cats. But perhaps not this baby…
And does the beagle feel guilty for stealing the baby’s toy or is just trying to get it to play fetch like this optimistic labrador?
- YOUR BABIES #003 – DOG TRIES TO TEACH BABY HOW TO PLAY FETCH. (babylaughter.net)
- YOUR BABIES #015: WHICH IS THE FUNNIEST ANIMAL? (babylaughter.net)
- YOUR BABIES #019: BABIES THINK DOGS ARE FUNNIER THAN CATS. (babylaughter.net)
- CATS LOVE BABIES… BUT BABIES STILL LOVE DOGS! (babylaughter.net)
The first results of our global survey were presented at an infancy conference last July. I thought I’d posted them here but it seems I forgot (typical absentminded academic).
Poster presented at International Conference for Infant Studies, Berlin, July 2014
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!
Thanks to everyone that took part.
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.