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Psychologist with the best job—studying baby laughter—has some seriously wholesome science

baby laughter
Photo by Deedee Geli on Unsplash

Before there are words, there is laughter. Babies make gigglefests look easy. They laugh at everything from traffic jams, to dogs and cats, to mommy and daddy tying their shoes. No punchline necessary. LOLs abound.

As sweet as it is, a mystery still remains. Exactly why do babies laugh?

Developmental psychologist Caspar Addyman aims to answer this question. And he takes his job very seriously, tirelessly conducting experiments to study human behavior. His subjects? Babies. His research? Laughter. That's right. Someone spends all day listening to the innocent giggles of small children. Arguably the best job in the world, second to petting cats.

Addyman's baby laughter studies have inspired some other innovative and creative projects, such as the Shake, Rattle, and Roll (play specifically made for babies to make them laugh) or Imogen Heap's Happy Song, which she collaborated with Addyman on. And though his research was making headlines a year ago, it's once again going viral. Because his findings are simple, heartwarming and profound.

Collecting parents' observations of their baby's laughter—ages ranging from newborn to 2.5 years old—Addyman would ask when the baby's first laugh was, if mommy or daddy was funnier and if certain toys inspired more chuckles than another. Through his worldwide studies, Addyman gained these insights:


Peekaboo is the ultimate funny.

baby laughter studyPhoto by tian dayong on Unsplash

To no parent's surprise, peekaboo is a never-ending barrel of laughs. But what about it is so funny? One of the reasons, according to Addyman, is that babies have no concept of time. So each time mommy or daddy magically disappears, it comes as a shock. Then when the beloved parent comes back, the surprise is a riot. But the fun doesn't stop there. As babies develop a sense that a mom or dad will come back, the game evolves into delightful anticipation. That's why even 2-year-olds still find peekaboo amusing.

Tickling is the second contender.

why do babies laughPhoto by Gabe Pierce on Unsplash

Though this one has the bonus of physical stimulus, the most important factor is the social context. Which is why receiving a tickle from a stranger is terrifying, where a tickle from mommy is welcomed and hilarious. Addyman says that tickling also developed from an even older communication ritual: "Tickling has deep evolutionary roots that come from being a mammal. It's partly related to grooming, a vital function that is also pleasurable." Tickling, like grooming, is a one-on-one trust-building experience.

When it comes to laughter, the more the merrier.

scientist studies baby laughterPhoto by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

When a cartoon played to a group of preschoolers, they laughed eight times more than when that same cartoon played in front of a single preschooler, alone. This implied that laughter is primarily a social tool of communication. "It's a genuine signal that you send when you're in a relaxed and comfortable situation," Addyman says in his interview with TED. He noted that even the preschoolers who watched the cartoon alone would often look toward the researchers during the funny bits. Laughter gives us a sense of belonging.

Freud was wrong.

baby laughter ted talkPhoto by Juan Encalada on Unsplash

Babies do not instinctively find joy in another's pain. Addyman's studies showed that babies were more likely to laugh at themselves falling over, versus someone else. Schadenfreude, therefore, seems to be a concept we learn in adulthood to cope with the harsh realities of life, rather than something we're born with.

Mommy is no less funny than Daddy.

baby laughter sciencePhoto by Seth Reese on Unsplash

Both mom and dad seemed to score equal amounts of funny points. However, parents also reported that their sons laughed close to 50 times a day, whereas their daughters seemed to only chuckle around 37 times. The divide, Addyman says, could be due to how the behavior is "reinforced by the parents … If you think your boy baby is laughing more, you may try to make them laugh more."

The key ingredient to laughter: LOVE.

science of laughterPhoto by Daniel Thomas on Unsplash

"Happiness is greatest when we're with our loved ones," Addyman says. Human connection is far more impactful than a puppet or a toy. Hence the power of peekaboo. More than anything, a baby is looking for pure social interaction and undivided attention from their adult protectors. Their laughter is a way of having a heartfelt conversation.

Addyman admits that in a grown-up world, laughter might not come as easily. But he says the first step is to do what babies do: just be in the moment. "Babies laugh more than us because they take the time to look around," he says. Addyman thinks that a baby's pure, (literally) unadulterated laughter might be an expression of "flow," a term created by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to label that joyful state where you're so fully immersed in the present moment, you can't help but enter bliss. Considering how effortlessly a baby can reach joy, it seems he's onto something.


Plus his own studies are far from over. Next Addyman plans to explore how a baby's laughter plays a role in their learning process. There's still so much to learn, and laugh at.

By the way, you can watch Addyman's inspiring TEDxBratislava Talk on laughter via YouTube. It's great for all ages.

Photo by Eliott Reyna on Unsplash

Gen Z is navigating a career landscape unlike any other.

True

Every adult generation has its version of a “kids these days” lament, labeling the up-and-coming generation as less resilient or hardworking compared to their own youth. But Gen Z—currently middle school age through young adulthood—is challenging that notion with their career readiness.

Take Abigail Sanders, an 18-year-old college graduate. Thanks to a dual enrollment program with her online school, she actually earned her bachelor’s degree before her high school diploma. Now she’s in medical school at Bastyr University in Washington state, on track to become a doctor by age 22.

a family of 6 at a graduation with two graduatesAll four of the Sanders kids have utilized Connections Academy to prepare for their futures.

Abigail’s twin sister, Chloe, also did dual enrollment in high school to earn her associate’s in business and is on an early college graduation path to become a vet tech.

Maeson Frymire dreams of becoming a paramedic. He got his EMT certification in high school and fought fires in New Mexico after graduation. Now he’s working towards becoming an advanced certified EMT and has carved his career path towards flight paramedicine.

Sidny Szybnski spends her summers helping run her family’s log cabin resort on Priest Lake in Idaho. She's taken business and finance courses in high school and hopes to be the third generation to run the resort after attending college.

log cabin resort on edge of forestAfter college, Sidny Szybnski hopes to run her family's resort in Priest Lake, Idaho.

Each of these learners has attended Connections Academy, tuition-free online public schools available in 29 states across the U.S., to not only get ready for college but to dive straight into college coursework and get a head start on career training as well. These students are prime examples of how Gen Zers are navigating the career prep landscape, finding their passions, figuring out their paths and making sure they’re prepared for an ever-changing job market.

Lorna Bryant, the Head of Career Education for Connections Academy’s online school program, says that Gen Z has access to a vast array of career-prep tools that previous generations didn’t have, largely thanks to the internet.

“Twenty to 30 years ago, young people largely relied on what adults told them about careers and how to get there,” Bryant tells Upworthy. “Today, teens have a lot more agency. With technology and social media, they have access to so much information about jobs, employers and training. With a tap on their phones, they can hear directly from people who are in the jobs they may be interested in. Corporate websites and social media accounts outline an organization’s mission, vision and values—which are especially important for Gen Z.”

Research shows over 75% of high schoolers want to focus on skills that will prepare them for in-demand jobs. However, not all teens know what the options are or where to find them. Having your future wide open can be overwhelming, and young people might be afraid of making a wrong choice that will impact their whole lives.

Bryant emphasizes that optimism and enthusiasm from parents can help a lot, in addition to communicating that nothing's carved in stone—kids can change paths if they find themselves on one that isn’t a good fit.

Dr. Bryant and student video meeting Dr. Bryant meeting with a student

“I think the most important thing to communicate to teens is that they have more options than ever to pursue a career,” she says. “A two- or four-year college continues to be an incredibly valuable and popular route, but the pathways to a rewarding career have changed so much in the past decade. Today, career planning conversations include options like taking college credit while still in high school or earning a career credential or certificate before high school graduation. There are other options like the ‘ships’—internships, mentorships, apprenticeships—that can connect teens to college, careers, and employers who may offer on-the-job training or even pay for employees to go to college.”

Parents can also help kids develop “durable skills”—sometimes called “soft” or “human” skills—such as communication, leadership, collaboration, empathy and grit. Bryant says durable skills are incredibly valuable because they are attractive to employers and colleges and transfer across industries and jobs. A worldwide Pearson survey found that those skills are some of the most sought after by employers.

“The good news is that teens are likely to be already developing these skills,” says Bryant. Volunteering, having a part-time job, joining or captaining a team sport can build durable skills in a way that can also be highlighted on college and job applications.

Young people are navigating a fast-changing world, and the qualities, skills and tools they need to succeed may not always be familiar to their parents and grandparents. But Gen Z is showing that when they have a good grasp of the options and opportunities, they’re ready to embark on their career paths, wherever they may lead.

Learn more about Connections Academy here and Connections’ new college and career prep initiative here.

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