What makes babies laugh?

The sound of a baby giggling is one of the best noises in the world – which must be a fact because parents try so hard to make it happen. Babies seem to know that they can get adults to do any number of ridiculous things to achieve a laugh, and they totally work it.

A new (and on-going) study by Dr Caspar Addyman, a Research Fellow at London Birkbeck University’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (aka the BabyLab), on why babies laugh has come up with some really interesting insight into what makes babies chuckle.

Dr Addyman says that laughter is a social activity and one of the biggest reasons a baby seemingly laughs at random things (a light, washing on the line, you peeling a banana) is because babs is in your company and laughter is an expression of happiness.

A periphery of this idea is  that parent interaction is key to making babies laugh – babies love our undivided attention and they will laugh when they have it, even if it’s something as simple as being lifted in and out of a the bath at bath time.

Babies love games and, unsurprisingly, peek-a-boo is a winner – babies respond to the ‘happy shock’ of a parent ‘returning’ and as baby grows it’s the anticipation of the return that illicit the laughter.

Many babies also find rattles hilarious – either because of the noise the rattle makes because baby realises that he/she has made that noise happen (it’s a triumphant laugh).

And why are babies big on mirrors? – It’s not because they recognise themselves (this only happens at around 18 months) but because the mirroring of expressions breaks natural social conventions, and babies find this funny; conversation and social interaction involve turn-taking, but the person in the mirror is breaking these conventions by doing everything at the same time, explains Dr Addyman.

I remember when my daughter as about six-months-old, on a whim I took her orange Care Bear teddy and made him walk down the passage of our small flat – my daughter laughed… and laughed. I hoped for a reaction but did not expect such delight! – The incongruity of an animal or inanimate toy behaving in a human fashion is apparently not too sophisticated a concept to babies – who find bizarre role-playing quite amusing. Interestingly, according to the research, parents overwhelmingly reported that dolls and puppets were their baby’s funniest toy.

The research (based on information provided by 1,400 parents from 25 countries – to date) also showed that babies find both mum and dad equally entertaining, and it’s boy babies who seem to have the best sense of humour, laughing a reported 50 times a day in contrast to girls who laugh 37 times a day. (Any mums care to argue this point?)

The thing to note about laughter is that it is an invitation to carry on; a laugh or a smile says please keep doing what you’re doing. As parents, we aim to make our children happy, and laughter is an indication that we’re doing an okay job of it.

For more information on Dr Addyman’s research, read “Why DO babies laugh? That’s what a scientist set out to learn… with tantalising results” on Dailymail.co.uk