+
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.

Brandon Conway sounds remarkably like Michael Jackson when he sings.

When Michael Jackson died 13 years ago, the pop music world lost a legend. However markedly mysterious and controversial his personal life was, his contributions to music will go down in history as some of the most influential of all time.

Part of what made him such a beloved singer was the uniqueness of his voice. From the time he was a young child singing lead for The Jackson 5, his high-pitched vocals stood out. Hearing him sing live was impressive, his pitch-perfect performances always entertaining.

No one could ever really be compared to MJ, or so we thought. Out of the blue, a guy showed up on TikTok recently with a casual performance that sounds so much like the King of Pop it's blowing people away.

Keep ReadingShow less
Heroes

'I put my arms around him': Man risks his life saving a stranger during suicide attempt on bridge

"I told him whatever it was, whatever was going on in his life, it was going to be OK."

Rochester, New York.

Suicide is an emotionally fraught and complex topic to discuss. But one overlooked part of the issue that provides some hope is that even though suicidal crises are predominantly caused by chronic issues, they are usually short-lived.

An article in the journal Crisis, cited in a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health news piece, states that the acute period of heightened risk for suicidal behavior is often only hours or minutes long. Around 87% of people deliberated for less than a day. Another article in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that of people taken to the hospital after a suicide attempt, 48% considered the idea for fewer than 10 minutes.

Keep ReadingShow less

A viral video from a Little League game has people celebrating good sportsmanship.

Youth sports have gotten more intensely competitive, to the point where overeager parents and coaches have to regularly be reminded to take it down a notch. So when humanity takes precedence over team rivalries, it's extra heartwarming.

And considering how many "kids these days" laments we see coming from older generations, it's also heartening to see kids showing excellent character qualities when no one directly asked them to.

A viral video from a Little League baseball game is giving us a nice dose of both—good sportsmanship and basic human kindness from two players from opposing teams.

Keep ReadingShow less