How lucky can one be? Caspar Addyman, a British psychology researcher, spends his days provoking babies to giggle. He listens to the sweet sounds of their laughter as a part of his research into why they laugh long before they begin talking. The study covers babies up to 30 months old.
The laugh that inspired the researcher
Addyman lectures developmental psychology at the University of London as director of the institution’s Goldsmiths InfantLab. Interestingly, he has no children, but his inspiration came from his sister’s laughing and joking with her 3-month-old baby daughter. Watching them made him wonder how a baby’s laughter might provide insight into studies about babies’ thoughts. Most babies speak their first words between nine and 12 months, but they laugh at three months or even younger.
There is no button to push to make a baby laugh
Many obstacles existed in Addyman’s research, and the first step was to observe laughing babies. The researcher set out to get parents to complete questionnaires about their babies’ laughter. The collection of information from parents happened from Sept. 2012 to Nov. 2013. Participating parents were across the globe, and Australia, Uruguay, Zambia and the Philippines formed part of 1,500 parents of 62 countries.
From the questionnaires, he learned when their babies laughed for the first time. Furthermore, the answers indicated which situations babies found the funniest and which games or toys caused the most laughter. The answers reaffirmed that three months were the age at which most babies started their happy chuckles. Many of the parents included short video recordings with their answered questionnaires.
The number one game to get a laugh
Worldwide, parents reported that no toys, puppets or silly noises could cause laugh riots like a game of peekaboo. Addyman found this intriguing because it fascinated and brought about bubbling laughter across the age-range from three to 30 months old. The results indicated that the younger babies seemed to think the person or parent disappears and reappears. However, from about 2-years old, the game didn’t fool the babies. They knew the other person did not disappear. Yet, they found it as hilarious as the younger babies did, showing that they laughed because it was fun rather than funny.
Sharing fuels laughter
Another lab study by Addyman involved children from 2-and-a-half years to 4 years. He recorded the laughter of one child alone watching a cartoon. Then, watching the same cartoon with another child and, finally, with a group of other preschoolers. Interestingly, watching it with another preschooler, the child’s laughter increased eight-fold from watching it alone. However, the child’s laughter in a group was no more than when sharing the cartoon with one companion.
Addyman’s findings indicated that rather than laughter being contagious, it was a signal of sharing the fun and communicating that they find something funny. He reported that when children watched the cartoon with no company, they would turn and attempt to catch the researcher’s eye during the cartoon’s funny scenes.
What do babies communicate when they laugh?
Addyman says babies observe how their laughter makes adults happy. They know as long as they laugh every time a peekaboo companion appears, they will maintain the adult’s attention. Furthermore, the eye contact they share with the adult is pure social interaction. By endless laughter, they reward the adult for the prolonged attention.
The researcher’s next study
According to Addyman, they’ve only reached the frontier in learning the science of babies’ laughter. Further to this study, he now researches the effect of repeating the same joke on how they laugh. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed the platform to conduct this citizen science study.