What’s more fun than watching a cute, chubby baby giggle uncontrollably? A quick check of YouTube shows thousands of videos with babies laughing. Laughing at dogs, cats, their parents, other babies, even a baby laughing at the sound of ripping paper. With so many infants laughing at such a varied amount of stimuli, clearly the study of baby laughter would have mountains of research papers being written, and hundreds of studies being conducted. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. The field of gelotology—that’s the official name for the study of laughter and its effects on the body— is one where there has been almost no real research.
Laughter has been studied as far back as Aristotle. He believed
that laughter was an expression of superiority over others. Freud studied it as well, and believed it was a relief measure, that since so many human emotions are repressed due to societal conventions, laughter is a way to release pent up frustration and emotion
studied the cognitive development of babies and opined that babies laugh when something unexpected happens. Their development is a process of coming to understand what is happening around them, so when something they don’t understand happens, like a game of peek a boo, they laugh because it’s unexpected and at odds with what they know. While several prominent development experts had theorized about babies and laughter, there were no substantive studies done on it.
Caspar Addyman, of Birkbeck, University of London, is currently studying the development of laughter in babies and some early results from his work are now available. Addyman is a researcher at Birkbeck University’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development. In his study, called simply, The Baby Laughter Project
, he collected data from about 1000 parents via a detailed questionnaire on what made their babies laugh, at what age they first laughed and whether or not they could induce laughter in their babies.
show a timeline of when babies first begin to smile and laugh. The first smile that isn’t just a burp gone bad usually happens around the age of six weeks. Actual laughter happens around three months of age. The number one cause of laughter in babies? Tickling. Peek a boo, or hiding something and bringing it back again, was number two.
Addyman, in an interview with RedOrbit.com stated
, “We mustn´t overlook the fact that laughing is a highly social experience. Research on adult laughter finds that the majority of our laughter is provoked by social interaction rather than events that are inherently funny or amusing. Laughter acts like social glue. Babies can smile and laugh long before they can talk and this is clearly important to their bonding with their caregivers.”
On the web page for his research project Addyman also talked about what babies know and how it relates to what makes them laugh. He said
, “For example, only once a baby knows that dogs are supposed to ‘woof’ will they start to laugh at a dog that meows 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”
The following video is a presentation Addyman gave at Birkbeck University that details his collection of data and what he plans to do going forward in his research.