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 (http://babylaughter.net ) 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 🙂

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