Baby laughter

Whether it’s a cute little giggle or a big belly shaking guffaw the sound of a baby laughing really is a joyous thing. It’s no wonder internet memes of laughing babies are so popular. But knowing you were the one to make your baby laugh is an even better feeling, as it’s one of the first social connections you have together.

Freud used to think that babies laugh at things that make them feel superior, like when someone else makes a mistake (drops something or falls over). I can see why he might think that because my baby laughs when she thinks she has successfully hidden from us and knows something we don’t. However that doesn’t take into account the social interaction element. She isn’t feeling superior, she’s anticipating the reaction when we find her. She also laughs when she successfully walks a few steps on her own, and that has nothing to do with us making a mistake.

Recently Russel Brand said that tickling should be banned, and he would punch anyone who tickled his kids without their consent. My baby massage instructor also said their philosophy bans tickling because it is an involuntary reflex, but again I think they are both missing the point. If I was just tickling my baby without preamble she wouldn’t laugh. It is the eye contact and build up she enjoys. Sometimes just wiggly my fingers is enough to get her giggling, so it’s all about the social interaction.

There is surprisingly little modern research into baby laughter, but Dr Caspar Addyman at Goldsmiths University is aiming to change that. He carried out the largest survey asking parents about what makes their baby laugh and thousands responded. Hundreds also sent in videos of baby’s laughing, so his site is a great pick me up if you want to see a laughing baby.

He found that from an early age baby’s develop their own sense of humour but there are universal things that make baby’s laugh. One of his conclusions is:

If a baby is laughing you can guarantee that they have learnt a new skill or else they want your help to do so.

This seems to match my experience of baby laughter better, because some of the biggest giggles I’ve seen are when my daughter learns something new, for example the first time she walked a few steps she was delighted with herself and laughing away.

The other things that make her laugh are:

  1. Tickles, especially the build up as you repeat a few times, so she loves tickling songs like Round and Round the Garden or This Little Piggy. I think it’s the anticipation and then the joy when her prediction of what she thinks is going to happen comes true.
  2. The unexpected when we do something silly she wasn’t predicting, like putting her hat on my head or pulling a funny face.
  3. Peekaboo, when we are hidden and reappear. This was one of the first things that made her laugh.
  4. Hide and seek, when she hides from us and we do an exaggerated search looking for her.
  5. Games with a predictable outcome, like if a fly (my finger) buzzes towards her and touches her on the nose a few times.
  6. When she drops something she knows we’ll pick up (like her hat out the pram) and she keeps repeating, it’s especially funnier the more shocked I look and if I waggle it at her before giving it back.
  7. When she discovered she could blow a raspberry on my belly

Dr Caspar Addyman is currently crowd funding to publish a book with his findings, and I am really keen to read it and learn more. I would love to find new ways to encourage her mischevious sense of humour and watch it continue to grow.

For more information on the research project or just to see some cute videos if laughing babies please visit…

(Note I have no affiliation or links to the project).

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