Laughing Babies Sought for Research Study

Laughing Babies Sought for Research Study at Johnson State College


October 6, 2008

A study of how babies develop laughter and humor is seeking participants for a research project at Johnson State College.

To be eligible to participate, babies should be no more than three months old, and have been full-term at birth. The study will enroll 20 babies and their mothers, who can earn up to $155 for their time participating in the research.

Each participant will be followed starting when the baby is three months until he or she is six months old, with an additional follow-up at 12 months.

Mothers will be outfitted with digital voice recorders when their babies are three months old. They will be asked to provide brief descriptions of events their infants seemed to find amusing, and things their infants did trying to amuse their mothers. Mothers and babies will also be videotaped playing together for 10 minutes in their homes on four occasions.

The purpose of the study is to observe how infants develop laughter and humor in the first six months of life,” said Gina Mireault, Ph.D., a professor in Behavior Sciences at Johnson State College who is leading the study. “There are only a handful of studies observing the course of infant laughter development, and those have concentrated on the later part of the first year. We want to know how infants discover what is amusing, and how and when they attempt to amuse other people.

“Infant humor is significant for three main reasons,” Mireault continued. “First, it gives us insight into what infants are observing and learning about the world. Prominent psychological theories suggest that children do not understand the minds of other people until they are about four years old. However, we have good evidence that older babies know how to use teasing, for example, to make other people laugh.

“This suggests that infants understand considerably more about other people’s minds than they’ve been given credit for. Secondly, humorous interactions between parents and babies have all of the elements that promote emotional bonding, such as attachment. We think that humor development may be one of the key ingredients for a baby’s healthy emotional development.

“Finally, humor research gives us insight into evolution, as there is plentiful evidence that nonhuman primates and other mammals play and exhibit expressions similar to smiling and laughing. Since babies also exhibit these behaviors early in development, it suggests that nature plays a role,” Mireault added.

For more information, contact Gina Mireault, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Behavior Sciences, 210 McClelland Hall, Johnson State College, Johnson, VT 05656, tel: 802-635-1427, or email Gina.Mireault@jsc.edu