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What Makes Kids Laugh?

Thursday, September 18, 2008 - 09:00 AM

Aristotle thought babies became human beings only once they laughed for the first time. He also decided that this should happen around their 40th day. Conventional wisdom now puts it at about the 90th day—but we’re probably not as funny as the ancient Greeks.

In the 1930s, researchers at Toronto University tried to chart precisely what kids find funny when. It’s lovely to imagine a team of bespectacled gentleman hard at work making “queer guttural sounds” at toddlers, and the results, yet again, may say as much about the researchers as about the kids.

Some examples from the chart “Stimuli eliciting smiling and laughing in children at different ages” (from Toronto University Studies Child Development Series, No. 7: A Study of Laughter in the Nursery School Child (1936), by William E. Blatz, Kathleen Drew Allin, and Dorothy A. Millichamp. Via Cabinet:

Stimuli eliciting smiling: Smile: stimulation of erogenous zones; intra-organic stimulation; tickling, shaking, patting; Gentle rocking, turning on stomach

First month
Stimuli eliciting smiling: State of comfort on waking; Normal digestive function; Tickling under chin; Nursing

Fourth month:
Stimuli eliciting smiling: Nods, prattles, cuddling; Tumbling about; tossed in air; Slid down knees; Sister’s antics; Satiety; Sneeze; Pinafore over face withdrawn; Mirror image; Threatening head; Elevator play; Tickling
Stimuli eliciting laughter: Boisterous play or frolic; adult uncovered face and approached; Droll, meaningless sound; Mother saying things in a funny way; Mirror image; threatening head

Eighth month:
Stimuli eliciting smiling: Special smile for friends
Stimuli eliciting laughter: Sitting on a blanket in sun; fruit juice; bumps, if laughed with; Kitten (with fear signs also)

This video of a laughing baby has been viewed 44 million times, putting it in the top ten most popular YouTube videos. It’s remarkable that in the world of infinite wonder and variety that is YouTube, people are so keen to watch a laughing baby.


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Comments [2]

brittnany manigault from mt.Pleasant


Oct. 12 2010 02:56 PM
Connor Walsh

Sigh. See scientists? This is why you need Radio Lab! Teehee ;-)

Sep. 18 2008 01:56 PM

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