Your Babies #027: Finn squeals with fear and delight

Enjoy this video of 2 year old baby Finn screaming with delighted terror as he races along on his little bike. If anything, I’d say he wanted to go faster. And like his dad says, you can bet he will love rollercoasters when he is older.

Finn isn’t at all unusual in this. According to our research one of the best ways to make 3 to 5 month old babies laugh is to dangle them upside down. And we’ve all been a little scared to watch proud new dads throwing their giggling young babies high the air. So why do babies find delight in danger and revel in rough and tumble?

I don’t actually know. Partly it is that they don’t know to be afraid. But that same baby could be scared by a small insect or a rustling curtain in his or her bedroom. So that can’t be the whole story. I suspect it comes down to adrenaline. Excitement and fear both cause your body to react in a similar way, releasing a lot of adrenaline and getting your heart racing. It prepares you to react. When the situation turns out not to be dangerous and there is nothing to react to then there is a sense of relief and excess energy has to be expended somehow.

In the spirit of science, I went on a a few roller coasters at Thorpe Park a few weekends ago. Here’s what happened to my heart rate:


Nemesis inferno rollercoaster at thorpe park 350Thorpe Park Rollercoaster heartrates


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I don’t mind admitting that at some points I was screaming like a little baby.

Thanks to Finn and his family for the video.

Bloomsbury – Home to laughing baby scientists since 1838

Dr. James Sully
Dr. James Sully

Laughing babies play an interesting role in the history of British Psychology. Over a hundred years ago they tickled the interest of Dr. James Sully, who worked just round the corner from Birkbeck Babylab at UCL, in Bloomsbury in London.

In fact, Sully was founder of the UK’s first experimental psychology lab at UCL and wrote several early popular books on psychology. These included Studies of Childhood  published in 1892 and An Essay on Laughter published in 1902.  Compiled from observations of his own children and reports sent in by the general public, laughing babies featured prominently in both books.

I recently learned about a lot more about Sully and his work when I was visited by Dr. Tiffany Watt-Smith, who studies the history of emotions at Queen Mary University of London. She’s written up an acount of our conversation. You can read it here.

Gleeful babies..

In … An Essay on Laughter, Sully expanded his discussion of the significance of laughter in the early years of life. In it, he wondered about the evolutionary purpose of contagious laughing in forging sympathetic bonds between parents and children. Sully also identified different baby laughs – from the ‘sudden glee’ in which ‘the arms flag wing-like or meet in the joyous clap and the whole body jumps’, to the ‘forced laugh’ some children develop in response to a situation they realize they are supposed to find funny.

Make gleeful scientists..

‘It’s like being a stand-up comic’ says Dr Caspar Addyman, a psychologist investigating infant laughter at the BabyLab at Birkbeck University of London. Showing me around the basement laboratories, their walls painted grey to create a calm environment, Addyman admits he’s ‘full of glee to be doing this’. Here, Addyman and the parents who volunteer their babies to take part in his experiments, gurn, grin and play peekaboo. The giggles they elicit from their tiny experimental subjects are video recorded for later analysis. Addyman is only at the beginning of his research. He hopes to uncover the links between laughter and learning.

via The Scientist and the Stand-Up | The History of Emotions Blog.

Darwin_GowerAnd in fact, Bloomsbury’s association with the science of laughing babies goes even further back than that. From 1838 to 1842 , Charles Darwin lived at 12 Upper Gower Street. And it was here that his first two children were born. Providing him with data for his own pioneering research on infancy and emotions.


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Baby Frederick reads about himself in the Daily Mail

babyFrederick reading Daily Mail

Baby Frederick from Warsaw, Poland has previously appeared on the site laughing at himself in the mirror. This  was featured in the recent Daily Mail coverage of our project and we sent Frederick and his family a copy of the paper. His father, Maciej, just sent me this lovely photo of Frederick reading all about himself. He seems quite pleased. 

Thanks once again to Frederick and family

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Welcome readers of the Daily Mail

The baby laughter project was featured in the Daily Mail today. So if you saw us there, thank you for visiting our site. We hope you like our laughing babies and all the hard work they are doing for science.

There are three ways you can help our research:

  1.  Share your own stories of what makes your babies laugh the most.
  2. Send us your laughing baby videos.
  3. Tell your friends. More babies = more data = better science = more laughter. Click the share buttons at the end of this article

In the meantime, we thought you might like to see some of the highlights from our project

Cosmo laughing at just 3 weeks old

Click for bigger

Frederick laughing at his own reflection

Read our explanation of why Frederick finds this funny.

Dominic – a world record holder

At just three months Dominic is the youngest ever baby fan of ripping paper. He is less than half the age of famous internet star Baby Micah. The fact that a baby as young as Dominic finds this funny is a real challenge to our understanding of their knowledge of the world. Read more here.

Caspar on the BBC News

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Click on the image to watch the video.


If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. To keep up to date follow us on twitter or subscribe to our Baby laughter blog RSS feed.

Thank you for visiting and thank you to all the parents and babies who have taken part so far,
Dr. Caspar Addyman

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Laughing Babies talk at London School of Laughter Yoga, Thursday 13th March

The surprisingly serious science of laughing babies
Dr. Caspar Addyman, Birkbeck Babylab

The laughter of little babies is infectious, enchanting and may play an important role in their early development. Dr. Caspar Addyman is a psychologist who studies what it is like to be a baby. After testing hundreds of babies in his experiments he was able to conclude that it is clearly great fun being a baby. But this is something that science largely overlooks. Therefore, he launched the Baby Laughter Project to investigate the role of laughter in early life. Over a 1000 parents from more than 25 countries have completed a detailed online survey and many have sent us stories or videos of things that make their babies laugh.

In this talk Dr Addyman will present the results of his research and describe how it answers questions about of the purpose of laughter. How does laughter track mental development? Is there an evolutionary explanation for why we laugh? Is infant laughter a form of communication? What are the best ways to make a baby laugh? Was tickling babies the first ever form of comedy?

Dr. Caspar Addyman works at the Babylab at Birkbeck, University of London. He specialises in the study of learning in the first few years of life and has researched such topics as how we learn our first words and how our sense of time develops. Caspar has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and psychology and a PhD in developmental psychology from Birkbeck. Before moving into academia he spent 8 years working on financial trading floors, first as a trader and later as a software developer. He has a written a novel about a retired psychologist & a failed comedian. He has turquoise hair and lots of tattoos, many of which were stimuli in his experiments. He lives in Brixton and doesn’t do as much tai chi as he should. Further details on Dr Addyman’s research areas at

The talk will be in the basement of the Star of Kings. 

There is a suggested donation of £10 on the day.
Concessions £ 8

Donations will go to the following charities

Kids Company

We provide practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable inner-city children. We provide a safe, caring, family environment where support is tailored to the needs of each individual. Our services and support empower children who have experienced enormous challenges to lead positive and fulfilling lives.


Kidscape is committed to keeping children safe from abuse. Kidscape is the first charity in the UK established specifically to prevent bullying and child sexual abuse. Kidscape believes that protecting children from harm is key.

The Star of Kings
126 York Way
Kings Cross, N1 0AX
London (map)


Baby leo visits Birkbeck Babylab. photos by Oli Scarff/Getty Images

What does the inside of a babylab look like?

Oli Scarff came to Birkbeck Babylab earlier this week to take a few photos for CBS News. Here are a few:

Oli leo-babylab-05


leo-babylab-06 leo-babylab-09
These last two are from my latest time perception experiment: leo-babylab-00 leo-babylab-01

You can see the rest at CBS Online 


All images (c) Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Mind you, not everyone likes the idea of peering into babies brains: Touchez pas a mes pensées (in french)

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