Baby Laughter survey scientific update

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.

Baby Laughter survey results [pdf]

Your Babies #030: Little Nina giggles as her brother clowns around

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.

Why I study laughing babies

I’m a psychologist working at Birkbeck Babylab studying how babies learn about the world. Recently, I’ve been looking at what makes them laugh. So going ‘ooh’ (and ‘aah’) is quite a big part of the job.

The reason I study babies is because that is the point in our lives when we are learning the most, learning the fastest and having to learn everything from scratch, for ourselves without the slightest idea what the hell is going on. It isn’t any wonder that babies are bursting into tears all the time. Poor mites.

But this is also why it is interesting to investigate what makes them laugh. Baby laughter is the opposite of baby tears. Tears tell us that they don’t like or don’t understand what is currently happening. By contrast, baby laughter is the sound of baby triumph. Just like us, they laugh when they get the joke. And often it’s for the very first time. Baby laughs are little eurekas. These are tiny scientists confirming their own theories.

Just as interesting is the effect that baby laughter has on adults. As youtube proves, it’s like catnip. When babies laugh we can’t help laughing too and this is incredibly valuable to babies. Above all else laughter is social and the most complicated thing in the world to understand is other people. When laugh with babies and in doing so give them our undivided attention and they can learn from us.

I ran a global survey asking parents all around the world what made their babies laugh ( ) and i’m currently trying to bring the study into the lab comparing contagious laughter and contagious yawns.

The best bit for me is that apparently this is a real job 🙂

Children taking classes in empathy from babies – Danielle Batist, Contributoria

Danielle Batist has written a wonderful article on Mary Gordon‘s Roots of Empathy programme. A scheme which brings tiny babies into primary classrooms for children to learn from them:

In thousands of schools around the world, children between the ages of five and twelve take lessons from a new-born baby. The result? Increased emotional intelligence, understanding and empathy towards classmates, and less bullying and aggression.

It looks like an ordinary Year 5 classroom in the Lucas Vale Primary School in the London borough of Lewisham. Colourful posters and artwork cover the walls and hang from the ceilings. A group of 10- and 11-year-olds talk and laugh as they get up from their desks. A woman walks in with a baby in her arms and immediately the chatter dies down. The children gather around a green blanket and burst into a welcome song: “Hello baby Sienna, how are you, how are you today?”

via Crying for empathy: Babies as teachers in classrooms : June 2014 : Contributoria – the independent journalism network.

It’s a fantastic project and one that I hadn’t come across before. It’s such a good idea that you can’t help believing in it. But it seems all the more remarkable for the efforts that are being taken to scientifically assess its benefit.

Related articles

BBC World Service – Babies’ Minds

Babies’ Minds
Part of The Truth About Life and Death
First broadcast: Wednesday 09 July 2014

bbc laughing baby

Tiny babies are, from birth, active learners. They don’t wait for the world to come to them. Claudia Hammond explores the very latest research about what influences the developing mind of the new born infant. Dr Caspar Addyman from the Babylab at Birkbeck, University of London, describes the biggest ever internet survey of babies’ laughter, which concludes that babies really do get the joke.

via BBC World Service – Health Check, The Truth About Life and Death, Babies’ Minds.