Wag the dog: A science project for babies’ best friend.

SOOO MUCH FUN!
Pet dogs are high up on the list of things that make babies laugh. But what makes dogs wag their tails? Some researchers in New York want to find out and would like your help. They are interested in how dogs and humans interact and what is involved when we play games with our four legged friends. They want you to send videos of you and your dog playing together. Here’s what they have to say about their project:

Hello! The Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab is run by Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a dog: What dogs see, smell, and know. Our research group is based in New York City, and we study the behavior and cognition of companion dogs. Read more about us and our research at DogCognition.com. We are presently investigating play between dogs and people, and we need your help (well, you and your dog’s help)!

Join the study in these easy steps:

  1. Complete a short survey
  2. Upload a video of you and your dog playing i.e. you are in the video playing with your dog (however you like to play together)
  3. Share a picture of you and your dog on our Wall of Contributors(optional)

Link: http://doghumanplay.com/

Dogs and humans have been constant companions for at least the past 40,000 years. The same timeframe in which we can say for definite that we have been thoroughly modern in evolutionary terms. Humans domesticated dogs and we shaped them in our own highly social image. For example, a recent project here at Birkbeck found that dogs can ‘catch’ contagious yawns from their owners. There’s no doubt that studying dogs thoughts can tell us some interesting things about our own early cognition.

Please consider helping this interesting and unusual new project.

Related:

Your Babies #003 – Dog tries to teach baby how to play fetch.

Some early results of our study.

We’ve had over 300 responses from 22 different countries. So far we’ve found a surprisingly wide range of ages for babies first laughs. We’re happy to report that mummy and daddy seem to be equally funny. Peekaboo is by far the most popular game for making babies laugh. Most encouragingly, we’ve found that, as with adults, babies’ laughter is a very important part of social bonding. As Victor Borges said:

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”

Here’s a few stats:

age of first laugh

funniest game

funniest person

I will be back later in the week with some of your reports on the funniest ever moments with your babies and your theories about what makes babies laugh.

Some

Should we tickle babies?

Like a ride on a rollercoaster, tickling can teeter on the brink of being scary or unpleasant. In fact that’s part of what is so fun about both tickling and rollercoasters. But just as babies are too small for scary fairground rides, maybe tickling is too much for them too? Babies are too small to squirm away from us so perhaps it is unfair to tickle them when they can’t defend themselves. An email from Johan in South Africa raises this question:

What a lovely and interesting research project you are busy with!

I noticed from an article I read about your research that you seem to approve of babies being tickled to get them smiling.

I grew up in a boarding school and I can remember what a dreadful experience it used to be pinned down by bigger kids and them tickling you until you are silly. Sadly, it happened to many smaller kids, who had no defense against this.

My question: Babies have no way of defending themselves against tickling, whether they like it or not. They also cannot protest. Isn’t it quite a bad idea to tickle the small ones? If so, you have a perfect opportunity to advise against this practise.

You raise a very interesting question. Some people do find tickling more unpleasant than others. And not without reason. One theory about why we are ticklish is so that we are sensitive to bugs and small parasites that might crawl over our bodies when we slept. Not a pleasant thought and understandable and beneficial that we would wriggle away from it. If that theory is true, then the more surprising thing about tickling might be why do so many people seem to enjoy it?

Here I think the crucial difference is that it can be fun when it is happening in a non-threatening context and we know that it is just someone doing it ‘in jest’. The sensation itself isn’t exactly pleasant, the tickle is still something we will squirm away from. But the overall situation it happens in can be pleasant.. in the context of a game with someone we like. (But in other contexts like you describe in your boarding school.)

So what about babies? As you say they can’t easily get away but I don’t think you need to worry too much about them being completely helpless. From the moment they are born, babies are very good at communicating what they do and don’t like. If they are crying there is probably something wrong. If they are smiling or laughing then they are probably having fun.

The most important thing anyone interacting with a baby can do is be responsive to the signals they are getting from the baby. The world is a confusing place if you are a baby but if we respond intelligently and consistently to them then they will feel secure and can flourish.

Babies love games and they love people and when we play games with them they are not just having fun they are also learning from us. Tickling can be a great game to play with a baby. I think that most babies, most of the time will really enjoy it. If they don’t they have ways of letting you know. It is always important to pay attention to what the baby is communicating to you and respond in an appropriate way.

Likewise, a very physical game like tickling is it’s not such a good game for younger children to play with babies unless they are carefully supervised by adults.

I hope that answers your question.

BBC World Service: Why do we Laugh?

The BBC World service programme the Why Factor has just broadcast a short program on why people laugh. You can still hear it online:

At first glance, it seems like a very obvious basic human response – we laugh because we find things amusing. But what is it that actually triggers our laughter, do all of us find the same things funny?

In the edition of The Why Factor, we also look beyond comedy, at laughter in our everyday lives and the role it plays in the relationships between men and women.

We also hear some surprising and disturbing discoveries. Why, for instance, were those who carried out the massacre at Columbine laughing as they shot dead 13 people?

The Why Factor on Laughter (Mon, 22 Oct 2012)

Welcome, Bienvenue, Selamat datang, में आपका स्वागत है, Dialu-alukan

It seems that last week’s story in the Independent got picked up all around the world. So welcome to anyone from India, China, Zimbabwe and beyond. Hello and welcome, if you’ve found us from one of those sites. If you have a baby please take our laughter survey.

Bayi Menganggap Ayahnya Paling Lucu
Yahoo! Indonesia News |  27/10/12 00:02
Liputan6.com, Jakarta: Orang dewasa biasanya tertawa karena sesuatu yang lucu. Lantas bagaimana dengan bayi Sebuah penelitian mencoba mengungkapkan apa yang membuat bayi tertawa.
…dilakukan di Babylab HQ, di Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London. Selama dua bulan terakhir, Dr Addyman telah…
  
Scientist Unravels Serious Science Behind Baby’s Laugh | Medindia
Medindia.com |  26/10/12 15:45
Fortunately Dr Caspar Addyman’s experiment, which he launched in August this year, is a little more complex. “Smiling and laughing are indices of our understanding of the world.
…smiles in Babylab HQ, at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London. For the past two months, Dr Addyman has…
  
Find out what makes your baby chuckle
Jagran Post |  26/10/12 12:00
London: In a new study, a researcher has tried to find what makes infants chuckle. Last time around, the experiment involved a toy clown attached to a piece of string, which scientists held in front of their tiny, unwitting human guinea pigs to see if and when they would laugh.
…smiles in Babylab HQ, at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London. For the past two months, Dr Addyman has…
  
Serious science behind baby’s laugh revealed
Zee News |  26/10/12 05:49
London: In a new study, a researcher has tried to find what makes infants chuckle. Last time around, the experiment involved a toy clown attached to a piece of string, which scientists held in front of their tiny, unwitting human guinea pigs to see if and when they would laugh.
…smiles in Babylab HQ, at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London. For the past two months, Dr Addyman has…
  
Serious science behind baby’s laugh revealed
India Vision |  25/10/12 18:40
London – In a new study, a researcher has tried to find what makes infants chuckle. Last time around, the experiment involved a toy clown attached to a piece of string, which scientists held in front of their tiny, unwitting human guinea pigs to see if and when they would laugh.
…smiles in Babylab HQ, at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development , Birkbeck, University of London. For the past two months, Dr Addyman has… 
  
Serious science behind baby’s laugh revealed
NewKerala.com |  25/10/12 17:41
London, October 25(ANI) In a new study, a researcher has tried to find what makes infants chuckle. Last time around, the experiment involved a toy clown attached to a piece of string, which scientists held in front of their tiny, unwitting human guinea pigs to see if and when they would laugh.
…smiles in Babylab HQ, at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London. For the past two months, Dr Addyman has…
  
Find out what makes your baby chuckle
The Times Of India |  25/10/12 13:18
SHARE AND DISCUSSFind out what makes your baby chuckle (Thinkstock photos/Getty Images) In a new study, a researcher has tried to find what makes infants chuckle.
…smiles in Babylab HQ, at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development , Birkbeck, University of London. For the past two months, Dr Addyman has… 
  
Serious science behind baby’s laugh revealed
Albuquerque Express |  25/10/12 11:02
In a new study, a researcher has tried to find what makes infants chuckle. Last time around, the experiment involved a toy clown attached to a piece of string, which scientists held in front of their tiny, unwitting human guinea pigs to see if and when they would laugh.
…smiles in Babylab HQ, at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development , Birkbeck, University of London. For the past two months, Dr Addyman has… 
  
Serious science behind baby’s laugh revealed
Zimbabwe Star |  25/10/12 11:00
In a new study, a researcher has tried to find what makes infants chuckle. Last time around, the experiment involved a toy clown attached to a piece of string, which scientists held in front of their tiny, unwitting human guinea pigs to see if and when they would laugh.
…smiles in Babylab HQ, at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development , Birkbeck, University of London. For the past two months, Dr Addyman has… 
  
Serious science behind baby’s laugh revealed
China National News |  25/10/12 10:40
In a new study, a researcher has tried to find what makes infants chuckle. Last time around, the experiment involved a toy clown attached to a piece of string, which scientists held in front of their tiny, unwitting human guinea pigs to see if and when they would laugh.
…smiles in Babylab HQ, at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development , Birkbeck, University of London. For the past two months, Dr Addyman has… 
  
Serious science behind baby’s laugh revealed
News.SmasHits.com |  25/10/12 10:23
London, October 25 (ANI): In a new study, a researcher has tried to find what makes infants chuckle. Last time around, the experiment involved a toy clown attached to a piece of string, which scientists held in front of their tiny, unwitting human guinea pigs to see if and when they would laugh.
…smiles in Babylab HQ, at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development , Birkbeck, University of London. For the past two months, Dr Addyman has… 
  
Serious science behind baby’s laugh revealed
Yahoo! India News |  25/10/12 04:50
London, October 25 (ANI): In a new study, a researcher has tried to find what makes infants chuckle. Last time around, the experiment involved a toy clown attached to a piece of string, which scientists held in front of their tiny, unwitting human guinea pigs to see if and when they would laugh.
…smiles in Babylab HQ, at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development , Birkbeck, University of London. For the past two months, Dr Addyman has… 
  
Serious science behind baby’s laugh revealed
Webindia123.com |  24/10/12 19:31
In a new study, a researcher has tried to find what makes infants chuckle. Last time around, the experiment involved a toy clown attached to a piece of string, which scientists held in front of their tiny, unwitting human guinea pigs to see if and when they would laugh.
…smiles in Babylab HQ, at the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development , Birkbeck, University of London. For the past two months, Dr Addyman has… 

Welcome readers of the Independent.

We are very pleased that the Independent has taken an interest in the baby laughter project. We like their article and hope that you do too. If you are a parent of a baby under 2 and a half, you can help us by completing our survey. Everyone else is welcome to send us a field report about the last time you made a baby laugh or better yet make a video and send us the youtube link.

Revealed: The serious science behind a baby’s laugh

by Charlotte Philby

4 months old Gaia finds our research amusing. (Photo by Terry Temgilley).

With bright blue hair and tattoos, Dr Caspar Addyman is not your average scientist. But then Britain’s “Babylab” is not your average laboratory. Here, inside one of the world’s leading infant-research units, Dr Addyman has spent the morning filtering through the results of his new Baby Laughter project. It is the first in-depth study since the Sixties into what makes infants chuckle.

continued..

The story is by Charlotte Philby and the photographer was Terry Temgilley.  Thank you to Dr. Silvia Rigato and her daughter Gaia  for entertaining them.

 

 

We’re featured on Scientific American site.

Scientific American likes babies too!

We are pleased to see that the Baby Laughter project is this month’s featured project at the Scientific American Citizen Science page. Citizen science is the blanket term used to refer
crowd sourcing and public involvement in real science projects. Some great examples include the Zooniverse project which has the public classifying astronomical bodies and Foldit, a computer game which gets you solving geniune protein folding problems.

The baby laughter project is a little more low tech than those but hopefully no less scientific. All you need to take part in our project is a baby and the ability to make it laugh. It is easy, fun and more scientific than you might imagine. We think babies are going to be laughing at things that they are just starting to understand. (A dog that goes ‘Miaow’ is only going to be hilarious once you know that dogs are supposed to go ‘woof’.) So with enough detailed observations from enough babies at different ages we can paint a cheerful picture of what they understand at different ages.

So if you’ve made a baby laugh recently we’d like to hear about it. You can either fill in our detailed questionnaire, submit a short field report of your observations or best of all, send us a youtube video of your laughing baby.

If you haven’t made a baby laugh recently, go and find one and get to work (for science!)