It’s good to talk.

Want to give your baby a head start then be sure to spend lots of time talking to him or her. I was once asked What are the most high-leverage activities I can do with my 1-2 year old to promote his mental and cognitive development?

It’s a crass way to ask a question that all parents want to know the answer to. As I said to that parent. “The secrets of healthy development aren’t secrets. Most important are a good diet, a rich and varied environment and LOTS of human interaction. Play games with him. Send him to nursery. Laugh and have fun.”

I should also have said “Talk to your baby”. An ever growing body of research is showing that the more words a baby hears the better it does in later years. Watching TV or eavesdropping on adults talking amongst themselves doesn’t have the same effect. As this short film from the Economist explains:

Economist baby talk video

Smart talk: Early language and the brain (

Update: Sorry for the autoplaying video. Blame the Economist.

Your Babies #026: Laughing twins Lubabah & Zeyanah

You laugh more in company and even more with your best friends and loved ones. So the obvious question is, do twins laugh more than the rest of us? Let’s examine some evidence.

Lubabah and Zeyanah definitely seem to be having a lot of fun. Youtube has plenty of other laughing twins having just as much fun. Even some laughing quadruplets.

In our parental laughter survey, we asked how many times a day babies laughed. We had 17 sets of twins in our data and on average their parents didn’t report that they laughed more or less than other babies. On average they all laugh around 40 times a day.

But I’ve suspected that parents are largely guessing when they answer that question. For example, parents report that boys laugh more than girls. This might be a real difference but it also be a cultural projection based on expected gender roles.

One parent of twins in Venezuela wasn’t sure if she’d been accurate in her guess of how much they laughed. So the next day she counted. She got to 500 laughs and emailed me to let me know. Which certainly brightened my day and suggests that maybe happy twins are more than twice as fun. Do you know any twins, what is your experience? Are you a twin yourself, did you think laughed a lot as child?

Thank you to Lubabah and Zeyanah and their parents for sharing this video and to Alexandra and family in Venezuela (our thoughts are with you today )

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New theory claims that crying babies help win wars.

Tomer Ullman has a wonderful new theory of why babies cry. The reason? It made our savanna ancestors angry and helped them beat their competitors in battle. I’ll let him explain:

As you will have hopefully have gathered HE’S JOKING!!!

His presentation was the winning entry at the 2013 BahFest, A celebration of bad but funny hypoetheses. Here’s how the organisers describe the event:

The first ever Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses (BAH!) was held on October 6th at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium. It was the first of what we hope will be many celebrations of well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory. Our brave speakers presented their bad theories in front of a live audience and a panel of judges with real science credentials, who together determined who took home the coveted sculpture of Darwin shrugging skeptically. And eternal glory, of course.

See more at

It seems that babies were a rich field for bad hypothesis. Here’s festival founder Zach Weinersmith’s own entry to the competition a incredible new theory of genetic dispersal through catapulted infants

Baby Dominic laughing at 3 months and 20 months

Your Babies #025: Dominic is back

Remember Dominic? He’s a world record breaker and the star of BBC’s coverage of our project. He’s an old friend of the Baby Laughter project. Well, not that old, he’s only 20 months old. But he was 3 and bit months old when we last heard from him. So that’s seven times as old as when he first appeared.

He’s also adding singing to range of talents.

Thanks once again to Dominic and his family for sharing their laughter.

OECD PISA Report 2012 Front page graphic.

Which countries have happy, successful teenagers? Most of them!

‘Happy teenager’ isn’t the oxymoron that media clichées might have you believe. Most teenagers aren’t in a state of permanent oscillation between angry and depressed. Nor are they out  out happy-slapping or high on glue or cheap cider.  Mostly they working hard at school, wondering about their future and what’s more they’re enjoying themselves. It’s actually parents who find adolescence difficult.

That’s the message of a recent article by  Jennifer Senior in the New York Magazine

Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University and one of the country’s foremost authorities on puberty, thinks there’s a strong case to be made for this idea. “It doesn’t seem to me like adolescence is a difficult time for the kids,” he says. “Most adolescents seem to be going through life in a very pleasant haze.” Which isn’t to say that most adolescents don’t suffer occasionally, or that some don’t struggle terribly. They do. But they also go through other intense experiences: crushes, flirtations with risk, experiments with personal identity. It’s the parents who are left to absorb these changes and to adjust as their children pull away from them. “It’s when I talk to the parents that I notice something,” says Steinberg. “If you look at the narrative, it’s ‘My teenager who’s driving me crazy.’ ”

Link to NYMag article ‘The Collateral Damage of a Teenager’ via

This is also why the above infograph by BuzzFeed is open to misinterpretation.

Happy, successful teenagers
Countries ranked by school achievement and happiness at aged 15 Created for Buzzfeed by Jake Levy (source)

It presents  results of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s 2012 PISA survey. Scores were collected for 15 year olds in 65 countries. Happiness scores for students who agreed or strongly agreed with the statement “I feel happy at school.” Test scores were the combined individual rankings of the students’ math, reading, and science scores.  But this graph exaggerates the differences between countries because it shows scores by ranking not by absolute difference.  If you look at the scores you will see that in even the lowest ranked country (South) Korea 61% of students were happy.

OECD PISA 2012 happiness at school
OECD PISA 2012 Percentage of 15 year olds agreeing with question ‘I feel happy at school’

The differences in combined math,science and literacy scores does more realistically reflect a pronounced difference in performance between countries. But here the important thing to remember is that the really important comparisons are within country rather than between country. Is the country improving it’s own absolute performance and if not what can it learn from those that are. As the PISA report says:

PISA results reveal what is possible in education by showing what students in the highest-performing and most rapidly improving education systems can do 

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