Amanda is a retired educator with many years of experience teaching children of all ages and abilities in various contexts.
What Is Laughter Anyway?
Let's take a look at why babies laugh and what they laugh at. It’ll be a lot of fun and when you've seen the video footage, I'm sure you'll be laughing too. So, get ready to learn something and have a great time in the process!
Before we can answer the question “Why Do Babies Laugh?” it makes sense to be clear about what laughter is and what purpose it has for older children and adults, too.
It might surprise you to learn that the question of what laughter is for and why we laugh, and why babies sometimes seem to laugh at nothing at all, is one that science still hasn’t answered in full.
The latest research, which we'll look at in a minute, comes to unexpected conclusions. It also suggests that the key to understanding why adults laugh is in the laughter of babies.
But first, just take a minute to watch this video. It’s delightful and hilarious but leads to the question, just why do babies laugh like this? Check it now.
How to Make a Baby Laugh
Giggling babies, babies laughing their little booties off, are funny for us too and I'd be very surprised if you didn't laugh along with baby Micah in the above video.
One thing that parents learn early on is just how to make a baby laugh.
While science may have come late to the party, parents and families have been conducting unofficial research since humans first evolved.
Parents go to great lengths to make their babies laugh and giggle. Not surprising as we associate laughter with happiness and most parents want their babies to be happy more than anything else.
One of the first things that scientists have done in their recent research is gather all this natural data together and look for patterns in the results, hoping to find common factors that make all babies laugh.
The results are interesting.
But before we check out the science, check out this crazy video of four babies, quadruplets, all laughing together with their mom.
Scientific Studies of Laughing Babies
Dr Addyman of the Center for Cognitive and Brain Development at the University of London, UK, runs one of the most wide-ranging studies into the laughter of babies since the 1960s.
"Smiling and laughing are indices of our understanding of the world. Adults laugh at something when they find it surprising or unusual; it’s the same for babies," said Dr Addyman in an interview for the Independent newspaper. "Finding out what makes infants laugh teaches us more generally about how humans understand and respond to the world around them, and also the ways in which that can change."
Convinced a purpose lies behind the laughter of babies, he says it’s more than an automatic response.
Dr Addyman believes that the root of laughter is in the baby's emerging need to socialize and bond with others around her.
“I think that’s the best thing I’ve found so far. Laughing is about bonding and connecting with other people.”
But another study has come to different conclusions, suggesting that the baby's laugh is a response to uncertainty and fear. There is, as we all know, a fine line between surprise and shock.
But to better understand that theory, which we'll look at next - first just consider the main things parents do, and the most common games they play, to make babies laugh.
Things Babies Laugh At
Scientists have discovered what parents already knew. There are certain things that babies will always laugh at, things they might sometimes laugh at, and others sure to make them cry.
But let's look at the sure-fire ways to get your baby giggling. Remember the ability to smile and laugh starts at about two months and in other babies may not begin until they are four months old.
According to both parental experience and scientific research, the things most likely to make a baby laugh are:
- The age-old game of “peek-a-boo”
- High-pitched noises and parents’ laughter
- Being thrown up in the air and caught
- Spinning round and suddenly stopping
- When you pretend to creep up and then tickle the baby
- When the parent pretends to fall over or hit herself
Recognize any of those? The interesting thing about these is that they all involve a build-up of suspense, followed by a sudden surprise and release of the tension.
So now let's look at the other most important research into why babies laugh, conducted by Professor Graham of Michigan University. His research doesn't contradict Dr Addyman's findings, but it casts it all in a different light.
Are Laughing Babies Happy?
One thing Professor Graham points out is that all these games are games of suspense and surprise. He points out that interpreted from a baby's point of view these experiences could be situations involving the possibility of threat.
But it isn't as simple as that. Babies cry when they feel a genuine threat. However, they may experience uncertainty or ambiguity. Laughter may be a release mechanism or even a defence mechanism, says Professor Graham, when a young baby confronts an ambiguous, threatening scenario.
When we realize that the people who find it easier to make the baby laugh are the parents, the argument makes sense. So, the experience of threatening behaviour from an otherwise trusted parent triggers the laughing response. But we've all seen when a well-meaning friend, someone unknown to the baby, tries to make her laugh only to find himself in the embarrassing position of having caused the baby to cry instead!
Many studies of military personnel responding to life-threatening situations in war zones show that many soldiers will laugh at the most brutal realities they confront.
Professor Graham has observed with his own child that:
He laughs the hardest when we scare the baby poop out of him, like looking away or pretending to sleep and then yelling, “boo” in his face.
Babies may not be laughing so much with straight-forward pleasure and surprise but with relief when perceived threats pass.
Even if it’s correct, and not everyone agrees with Professor Graham's analysis, it remains true that the baby is enjoying herself at the laughing stage and that the experience is part of vital learning about how to interpret the world and build positive social relationships.
The Evolution of Laughter: Darwin's Perspective
Charles Darwin, best known for his development of the theory of evolution by natural selection, was also a keen diarist and observer of all kinds of natural phenomena. His own family were no less interesting to him from a scientific point of view than the rest of the natural world.
In 1877, he published an article in which he recounted informal experiments he had undertaken with his young son. Noting that the baby responded to the typical games that parents play with their very young children, he was also curious to try more unusual behaviours.
I approached with my back towards him and then stood motionless; he looked very grave and much surprised, and would soon have cried, had I not turned round; then his face instantly relaxed into a smile.
I had been accustomed to make close to him many strange and loud noises which were all taken as excellent jokes but... I one day made a loud snoring noise which I had never done before; he instantly looked grave and then burst out crying.
The great evolutionary biologist was unable to draw any absolute conclusions from these experiments but he had already suggested that the evolution of laughter was in some way linked to the evolution of a range of responses to stress.
Certainly, our closest evolutionary cousins, the chimpanzees, make a facial expression and accompanying sound that is very close to our smile and laughter but is actually indicative of stress when faced with a potential threat.
So, Why Do Babies Laugh?
Well, the answer is that we still don't really know.
But we can be sure that the experience of laughing is linked to the release of stress and is an important part of human psychological development and social bonding.
And that remains true for older children and adults, too. We tend to laugh more when we are in company than we do when we are alone. And most of our jokes, from situation comedies through to stand-up, tend to revolve around situations that in real-life contexts would be dangerous, harmful or at least embarrassing to us. We play out the stress of our lives in the fantasy of humorous stories.
The root is the same for babies as for us. After all, we were all babies once!
Dr Addyman's on-going work is documented at babylaughter.net
Dr. Graham's work is referenced in Psychology Today
© 2013 Amanda Littlejohn
Got something to say about laughing babies? Share it here!
Suzie from Carson City on June 16, 2019:
Amanda....Oh my goodness! These precious, beautiful babies with such happy faces have lifted my spirits and made my heart sing! A wonderful & interesting article, written meticulously. Thank you for providing me with this informative article. Peace, Paula
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on April 01, 2016:
Hi m abdullah javed!
I'm glad this article about why babies laugh answered your question. And thank you so much for taking the time to comment.
Bless you :)
muhammad abdullah javed on February 16, 2016:
Got a convincing answer to query about babies laughing. It's very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing.
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on January 10, 2015:
Thank you for your kind comments. I'm glad that you enjoyed this article about babies and some of the research into why they laugh. The videos are very sweet and the one with quadruplets always makes me laugh out loud.
Bless you :)
Monica Langley from USA on January 09, 2015:
Super eye-catching and unique topic! Very imaginative! Babies are so charming, cute and funny…
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on January 04, 2015:
Hi Yippy Dooo,
I'm happy that you loved this hub. Thanks for taking the trouble to say so!
Bless you :)
YIPPY DOOO on January 04, 2015:
hi I loved your hub
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on August 25, 2014:
Thanks for your comment. An interesting idea about the origins of laughter.
I think one of the things that comes out of these studies of why babies laugh is that there is a clear link to the evolutionary development of communication and familial/tribal security.
Thanks again for your contribution. Bless you :)
CherylsArt on August 24, 2014:
Interesting hub. I have read that if one meets with adversity, that it's good to laugh it off and move on. Perhaps it is rooted in our desire to find good.
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on August 18, 2014:
Thanks for your comment and I'm delighted that you enjoyed this article.
Bless you :)
Rosetta Slone from Under a coconut tree on August 17, 2014:
I loved this article! The perfect mix of cute babies, science and research, opinions and entertainment.
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on June 05, 2014:
Hi Nell Rose!
Thanks so much for that insightful contribution to the discussion. I think you've hit on something really important there, with your observation of the way that babies look to their parents in the first instance to determine which response is most appropriate before responding with laughter or tears.
Thanks again and I'm so glad you enjoyed it! Bless you :)
Nell Rose from England on June 05, 2014:
Hi, I loved all the videos, made me laugh along with them! I do agree that its to do with the fear or fun factor, I have noticed that babies always keep their eyes on the parents when they laugh to start with purely because they want to see the parents reaction first, if the parent cried, then the baby would cry, and laugh then they laugh too, I remember it with my son. If he wasn't sure what reaction to have he would always look at me or his dad, if we laughed even though it was not particularly funny or even slightly scary, then yes he would laugh too, loved this! lol!
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on March 24, 2014:
Hi suraj punjabi!
Thanks so much for your comment. First of all, congratulations to you and your wife on the imminent birth of your first child. I am quite sure that you will both find great joy in that.
Secondly, yes it is interesting, as you suggest, that the things we sometimes think will make a baby laugh, don't. That was one of the reasons why I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the science behind this subject - as well as lots of amazingly cute videos of babies laughing!
Thanks again and every good wish to you and your new family.
suraj punjabi from jakarta on March 23, 2014:
Great article! I have found myself asking that question every now and then when confronted with a toddler and I try to make them laugh but it does not work. It is nice to know that I am not the only one in this case.
My wife and I are going to have our 1st child soon, and I have been wondering what will make him/her laugh, my wife and I will race over who will be the first to figure out where the laughing button is located. Lol!
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on March 20, 2014:
Thank you swilliams!
I'm really pleased that you enjoyed this. The videos are just too cute to be true, aren't they?
And the science behind why babies laugh is very interesting, too.
Bless you :D
swilliams on March 19, 2014:
Super cute article! Very creative! Babies are so cute. I guess we all wonder why they laugh or smile in their sleep, this is a very intriguing article. Voted up! Thanks!
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on February 04, 2014:
Thank you violet!
violet on February 04, 2014:
I enjoy it & love it
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on January 18, 2014:
Dear Harishprasad -
Please don't apologize! That is a wonderful, thoughtful and interesting comment and a very real contribution to the subject matter of the Hub and I thank you for it most sincerely.
Bless you :)
Harish Mamgain from New Delhi , India on January 18, 2014:
stuff4kids, it is very interesting and informative piece. Also, I enjoyed laughing with kids in videos. What I gathered from this is that some organs of our body play a great part in eliciting a laughter or cry. These are- our whole body, hands, legs and eyes. Along with these body parts, sound is a big factor. The intensity of sound can makes children either cry or laugh. When we combine gestures with our body parts along with giving emotions to our eyes, children tend to laugh but it all depends on the shapes of body movements and the particular emotion we instill in our eyes. If the emotion is to scare, children will cry, if it is serene and affectionate, they will laugh with us. The same applies to the sound we make. The sweeter the sound we make ,happier the child will feel and also laugh. On the contrary, horrible sounds will make him/her cry. So the research establishing threat perception seems to be correct one. The phenomenon of kids laughing is such a simple one but you have brought forth deep and serious studies about it. I really enjoyed it with all my heart and with apt attention and interest. And sorry, I got carried away under the spell of this most beautiful and wonderful stuff.
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on December 15, 2013:
Thanks for your kind comment. It is an interesting subject isn't it? I'm glad you enjoyed reading this.
Bless you :)
torrilynn on December 14, 2013:
This was a very interesting hub indeed ive always wondered why baby laughs. Great indeed. Up and interesting.
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on November 28, 2013:
Thanks for your funny contribution. Keep smiling.
Frodo Baggins on November 28, 2013:
Wurgle girgle Wurgle girgle
Why do babies laugh?
Wurgle wurgle girgle girgle
Cos there's bubbles in the bath!
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on November 26, 2013:
Thanks Rochelle - and I'll have to check out your humor hub, too. :)
Rochelle Frank from California Gold Country on November 26, 2013:
What a great idea for a hub! Lots of fun and very enlightening and interesting, too.
"the baby's laugh is actually rooted in a response to uncertainty and fear. There is, as we all know, a fine line between surprise and shock."... this was also something I concluded when I wrote a hub about writing humor. We find things humorous when they are a little bit threatening or incongruous.
Nothing more endearing than a laughing baby.
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on October 29, 2013:
Thank you for reading and commenting on this hub. That's a very sweet story that your mother tells. It reminds me of J.M. Barrie's story of how fairies first came into existence: that when the very first child laughed, the laughter scattered into thousands of pieces and each one became a good fairy.
Thanks so much for your contribution. Bless you :)
mathira from chennai on October 28, 2013:
stuff4kids, babies are such angels and we never tire of watching them. My mother tells me that angels appear before babies when they sleep and that is why babies smile while they sleep. I enjoyed the videos very much.
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on October 09, 2013:
Thanks for your comment. Glad you enjoyed it.
Bless you :)
Ambiga Jeyaratnaraja from India on September 25, 2013:
Interesting article and it's something that I really wanna know. I loved all the pictures u put in. To b frank I copied many to my phone album. Will set it as my wallpaper.
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on August 23, 2013:
I'm so happy that the hub was helpful to you. Bless. :)
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on August 23, 2013:
Hey, I'm happy you liked it! Sometimes its those everyday things that we just take for granted that can be really interesting when you stop to think about them.
Thanks for your comment and bless you. :)
georgescifo from India on August 22, 2013:
Great hub. I was also really wondering over the fact why my infant baby laugh at times. This hub has really helped in solving my question.
Audrey Howitt from California on August 22, 2013:
Such an interesting article!
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on June 23, 2013:
Thank you, Sam!
I love these videos, too and the science is interesting, isn't it?
Bless you :)
Sam on June 19, 2013:
This is really neat. The videos are so funny! I got tears of laughter. Cool science too. Neat.
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on May 30, 2013:
Hey Minnetonka Twin , thank you for your appreciation of this hub! I hope lots of folks see it 'cos it really is uplifting - I keep coming back to it even with the fact that I wrote it! Smiles and blessings to you :)
Linda Rogers from Minnesota on May 30, 2013:
I agree~what a blast to read this informative and enjoyable hub on laughter. I was enthralled with the videos. Thanks very much for an informative hub that was fun too. Hit many buttons and voted up.
Amanda Littlejohn (author) on May 30, 2013:
Hi Purpose Embraced!
Thank you so much. I must say that i laughed a lot putting this hub together, too! Anyone else need a laugh? Here it is! (with a few serious sciency bits, too...)
I am so glad that you enjoyed the hub. Bless you - and keep laughing! :D
Yvette Stupart PhD from Jamaica on May 30, 2013:
I love your hub! To tell the truth, I was laughing when I was reading the hub and watching the video clips. Going through your hub was really a refreshing experience for me.