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.
The most popular post on this blog is the one that asks ‘Should we tickle babies?‘ A lot of adults don’t like being tickled and babies can’t easily defend themselves. Perhaps we shouldn’t do it. Well, as this video of 9 month old baby Jaxton shows very clearly, babies really do enjoy being tickled. But they will also let you know once it gets a bit too much for them.
Thank you to Stacie, Jaxton and the rest of their family for sharing their video.
In several years of running the Baby Laughter project, I’ve been sent some wonderful and remarkable videos of laughing babies. This video of three month old Callan is one of the best ever. OUr research into baby laughter asks two simple questions; what makes babies laugh and why do they laugh. The answer to the first question is clear. Above all else it is people that make babies laugh. Laughter is first and foremost about social connection. We laugh in company, we laugh to share things.
“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people” – Victor Borge
But why laughter. Well, I think part of the answer comes from seeing that for babies, laughter and tears are two sides of the same coin. They are their first forms of communication. Tears say ‘make this stop’, laughter says ‘please continue’. This is obvious for crying but less so for laughter. But, as the millions upon millions of laughing babies on youtube show us, there is something very compelling about baby laughter too. Babies need to learn about the world and within that, the biggest mystery is other people. Baby laughter captures our attention and makes us give the baby our full attention. It is no coincidence that the most popular thing to make a baby laugh is the game of peek-a-boo. It is pure social interaction, and for a baby, pure learning.
This is something incredibly important to a baby. They need as much human interaction as they can get. And laughter is their way of persuading us to give it to them. And guess what, it makes you laugh too. Laughter serves a very important role for the baby and it is present from very early in life. So to me, although this video is completely remarkable, it is not entirely unexpected.
The video was sent in by his dad, Davide and filmed by his mum Sara. Thanks to Davide, Sara and Callan.
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.
New born babies – Handle With Care is an entertaining instructional by animator, director and first-time father Jun Iwakawa. New parents are confronted with an overwhelming amount of advice at a time when they are already overwhelmed by the little alien that has just landed in their lives. No doubt that is how Jun Iwakawa felt at first. But he and his new family survived without losing their sense of humour.