When I started at Goldsmiths last October I gave a talk to my new department about my research with laughing babies. Straight afterwards Prof. Lauren Stewart came up to me and suggested we collaborate on something. Lauren is a professor of the psychology of music and was interested in how babies respond to music. Music is laden with emotion and so it would be fascinating to learn more about its effect on young babies. So I readily agreed but that was as far as we got, we couldn’t find a suitable project.
Adults are rather disappointing right now. So here are some laughing babies to cheer you up.
Qayyum – 5 months
Qayyum and his daddy, Sharul, cheer each other up. As Shahrul says “After a whole busy day at work, “The Big Lion” (dad) feel much better when his “Little Monster” (son) laugh out loud.”
Hugo – 14 months
Seems like baby Hugo and daddy James have a similar arrangements: “Baby Hugo found it hilarious to throw a pillow on my head. After realizing that got him giggling, I decided to see how long he would keep up such a maniacal laugh. Suffice it to say, I’m just glad this wasn’t an anvil.”
Baby B – 12 months
And this little fellow can’t bring himself to cry. He’d rather laugh. Let’s all be like baby B.
Laughter and smiles transcend barriers of age, language and culture, and babies know this better than anyone. They don’t speak our language. They don’t share our culture; and they are at least a generation younger than us. All the same, we can easily share a laugh.
Spend any time with a baby and, assuming that they’re fed, clean and warm, they will put most of their effort into stealing your heart. Babies are gleeful, cheerful, charismatic and gregarious – inherent comedic qualities that ensure babies give cats a good run for their money in funny YouTube videos. Yet, while research in cognitive science has long recognised the importance of cuteness in early bonding, very few researchers have dug deeper. Until now. With a renaissance in what I like to call ‘positive psychology for babies’, we are starting to appreciate that smiling and laughter serve an important purpose from birth.
Laughter is primarily social. We laugh to connect and share our feelings far more than we laugh at jokes or the silly or surprising.
The thing that makes babies laugh the most is a human connection. All over the world, peekaboo is the most successful way to make a baby laugh. It is pure social connection. Surprise plays a role but the universal popularity is all because of the shared eye-contact and turn-taking. As you play the game, the baby is learning from you.
This may be the most important thing about laughter in young babies who are still too young to communicate in other ways. Their laughter captures our attention and when they have our attention they can learn from us.
And so ,bizarrely, the best way to make a baby laugh is to take her seriously. Give the baby your full attention and really concentrate on the baby. She will be delighted and laughter will probably follow 🙂
Three steps 1. Be prepared to give the baby your full attention – Put down your phone, you’ve probably got enough pictures already. 2. Let the baby lead the interaction – You are having a conversation but you must listen to her. 3. Don’t try to make the baby laugh – Work out what she’s interested in and help her learn a little bit more.
I’ve just started a new job in the Infant Lab at Goldsmiths, University of London. I am happy to report that my new boss tickles babies too. For science! Prof. Andy Bremner is interested in how babies learn about their bodies and their world. His most recent study with PhD student Jannath Begum Ali tickled babies to find out:
For a newborn baby emerging from the cosy womb, the outside world is much bigger, much colder and quite a different kind of place. At birth, the way newborn babies sense their environment changes dramatically. How do they make sense of all the new sounds, sights, smells and sensations?
Our new research has focused on the way babies experience touch, such as tickling. We’ve found that young infants of four months old, unlike older infants, are pretty accurate at locating where they’ve been tickled, even with their limbs crossed.
As a laughter researcher I am interested in tickling babies to learn more about laughter. For example, we want to run a study looking at how tickling and laughter changes babies heart rate, their hormone levels or their alertness. But it is nice to find my new colleagues are world experts on tickling babies. It seems like I’ve come to the right place.
This has also been covered in the New Scientist and the New York Times and elsewhere.