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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Easter Laughing Baby Hunt

Happy Easter, Help us with our research by finding laughing babies on YouTube. We love to see some examples of the following behaviours:

1. Shock turning to delight

2. A baby deliberately making an adult laugh

3. A baby laughing in anticipation of something (being tickled, etc.)

* Bonus – A baby dressed as a rabbit


Send links in the comments below or tweet your finds with the hashtag #laughingbaby

Have a Happy Chocolate Eggsmas,

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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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Want to be happy? Three simple lessons from laughing babies.

Today is International Happiness Day. As our small contribution we thought we’d share some wisdom from the happiest people on the planet, laughing babies.

1. People make us happy


Laughter and happiness are best when shared. We laugh with our friends.  The bond between baby and parent is the best friendship there is and that’s why babies and parents laugh more than the rest of us.  But everyone can improve their happiness by improving their relationships.

2. Challenge yourself every day


If you are a baby, every new day brings a new challenge . And each success brings great happiness. If you are not a baby, finding new challenges can be more… challenging. But it will be worth it. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied remarkably happy people from all walks of life and discovered that this was their secret.

3. Be present


Babies laugh more than us because they are constantly stopping to look around. They are never in a such a rush to get somewhere else that they miss the magic of right now.


As it happens, all three of these make it into  Action for Happiness’s 10 keys to happier living. They also have a special site set up just for today.  There’s lots going on  all over the world. Share your stories on twitter with the hashtag #happinessday. 

Finally, I am happy to say, I’m not the only person at Birkbeck studying happiness. David Tross is an associate lecturer in public policy and is studying for a PhD in Community and Happiness studies. Over on the Birkbeck research blog he asks ‘Could greater happiness be a permanent reality?’

Share and Enjoy!

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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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Reasons My Son Is Crying – Tumblr blog

The baby laughter project appears to have an evil twin. This photoblog documents the many ‘reasons’ why toddlers cry.

“I wouldn’t let him eat his yogurt with a pizza cutter.”
Submitted By: Nick L.
Location: California, United States


“She can’t fit into Dora’s minivan.”
Submitted By: Natalie H.
Location: Alabama, United States


“One of our cats was in the kitchen, and she wanted him to be in the dining room.”
Submitted By: Aaron M.
Location: California, United States

Loads more here : Reasons My Son Is Crying.