FAQ

Are babies born with an inherited or predetermined sense of humor?

The short answer is that we don’t really know. But my research has shown two things. (1) The majority of babies start laughing incredibly early (around 2-3months old) (2) But a small but significant minority (<3%) laugh very late 10 months old or even later.

 

Do the children laugh of the same things of the adults? What are the differences?

 

Babies are like adults. They laugh at people, they laugh with their best friends, they laugh when they are happy. The surprise here is that adults over-estimate the role of jokes and humor in what makes us laugh. Research by  Robert Provine conducted by eavesdropping on students in university cafetrias found that the majority of adult laughter is not in response to jokes but a means of sharing positive emotion with your friends.  Laughter is a social lubricant.

 

-Can you describe the evolution from the baby age to the childness, in terms of sense of humor?

 

What babies find funny does change as they grow up.  Other people and social interaction can be funny at every age. But events and activities become funny when they are surprising given their current understanding of the world.  For example, only once a baby knows that dogs are supposed to ‘woof’ will they start to laugh at a dog that miaows like a cat. As another example, I’ve had blue hair for five years and met hundreds of babies that come to our lab for research. Not a single baby under two has found it funny but 3 & 4 year olds find it hilarious :)

 

 

- At what age the children are able to understand more complex jokes ?

Although even babies have a sense of humour, children’s understanding of verbal jokes is actually very slow to develop. The jokes that even five or six year olds tell aren’t usually funny in the traditionally sense They don’t really understand the concept. They know there should be a punchline but don’t quite know what that means. Their jokes are surreal, incongrous and even dadaist but usually lack the logic of real jokes.

In contrast children start physical clowning from around 1 year old. When they first notice that people laugh at them doing something silly they are delighted and will do it again and again.

Why the children laugh more than adults?

Because they are happier :)

What can do the parents to improve the sense of humor of their sons?

Laughter is an intensely social activity and humor reflects a delight in the world. So in my view children who spend more time in good company and exploring widely are likely to develop the best sense of humor. My advice would be to spend as much time as you can sharing in your children’s world.

Why the children… are so  funny?

As the millions of  views on YouTube testifies babies are adorable and frequently hilarious but have you ever stopped to wonder why? It turns out they just can’t help it. Good comedy is 20% jokes and juxtapositions and 80% charisma and a connection with the audience. Watch any good stand-up comedian and you’ll see that most of the laughs don’t come from punchlines. Comedians win us over with their charm and then invite us to share in their carefully crafted delight and wonder at the world. Babies do this too, but without even trying. Our babies and toddlers have cuteness and charisma built in by Mother Nature. Our love and connect with our children makes us a receptive audience for their clowning and silliness. What’s more they are natural observational comedians. For them every day is a series of Eureka moments as they learn new skills and discover new things about the world.They have the ability to surprise and delight us because they are continually surprising and delighting themselves.

Why did you choose this particular project?

At Birkbeck Babylab we study the cognitive development of infant and young children. We run a lot of different experiments using a wide range of techniques (EEG, fMRI, NIRS, Eyetracking) But when I became interested in baby laughter I realised that this was something that was quite tricky to study in a laboratory based setting. Babies, like grown ups, don’t laugh on demand. But they do laugh a lot. So an online survey seemed like a great way to approach the problem.

How did you come up with this methodology? What was your approach to the project design?
We have three strands to our method. Firstly there is a fairly detailed online questionnaire for parents to respond about the times, places, people and games that make their baby laugh, together with some demographic information and a standard measure of temperament. This takes about 20-30 mins to fill in. Which can be quite demanding for a parent of a new child. So we also request short ‘field reports’ on single particular situations where the baby laughed. Finally, we encourage parents to share their videos of their babies laughing with us via youtube. The survey is the most controlled data but the field reports and youtube videos are very important in allowing a wider participation in the project and to make it appealing in a social media setting. Everyone loves videos of laughing babies!

How would you describe your project’s goals in one-two sentences.
We aim to take baby laughter seriously. We believe in can tell us interesting and useful new things about babies cognitive and emotional development. By conducting a large scale global survey of new parents we should be able to assemble enough data to see if this is true.

This project is run by Dr. Caspar Addyman at Birkbeck Babylab. He can be contacted at c.addyman@bbk.ac.uk

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