Try This Experiment on Your Baby!
3 to 6 months
Cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional development
Try this simple experiment on your baby to learn about your baby's cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional development.
Note: This experiment was originally published on the Experimenting With Babies blog on PsychologyToday.com.
Engage in a 10-minute unstructured play session with your baby, during which you should do whatever you normally do to make your baby laugh or smile.
Speaking in "motherese," or smiling or laughing yourself, may elicit laughter from younger infants, around 3 to 4 months old, but is less likely to get a giggle out of older infants, around 5 to 6 months old.
On the other hand, clowning -- defined as absurd nonverbal behavior, such as making odd facial expressions or sounds, or performing strange or absurd actions -- will not only be more effective at making your baby laugh than any other strategy, but also, it will grow more effective the older your baby gets.
In a 2012 study of babies between 3 and 6 months old, parents were videotaped in their homes as they attempted to make their babies laugh.
The researchers found that motherese elicited laughter or smiles in 17 percent of 3-month-olds, but that declined over time to only 10 percent of 6-month-olds. A parent's smile or laughter was infectious in 22 percent of 3-month-olds, but it also declined to only 6 percent of 6-month-olds.
Clowning, on the other hand, got laughs or smiles out of 41 percent of 3-month-olds, and that percentage grew over time to 63 percent of 6-month-olds.
The researchers noted that with age, the babies exhibited more clowning behaviors themselves, and parents' amused reactions to those behaviors appear to reinforce them.
Why, though, do parents so frequently use clowning in an attempt to make young infants laugh? After all, at least initially, infants don't know what to make of this behavior.
The researchers in the 2012 study suggest an answer. At the very least, clowning behavior is distinctly different than normal caregiving behavior, and so it is more likely to capture an infant's attention. If infants then notice that such behaviors are frequently paired with smiles and laughter, they are likely to eventually pick up on the humorous nature of the actions.
In just the span of a few months, your baby is likely to develop marked sophistication in her sense of humor. It'll be a few years before she hits the standup circuit, but she's certainly starting to identify what things are funny, and she's testing them out on her favorite audience -- you.
You can help her further develop her sense of humor by regularly spending time clowning around with her. Here are a few goofy activities mentioned in the study that are likely to get a chuckle out of her:
- Make odd body movements, such as exaggerated shoulder shrugs.
- Make odd facial expressions, such as sticking your tongue out or puffing out your cheeks.
- Make odd sounds, such as blowing raspberries or whistling.
- Perform odd self-decoration, such as putting a toy on your head.
- Perform absurd actions, such as balancing a stuffed toy on your belly.
- Expose hidden body parts, such as your belly button.
- Invade your baby's personal space by moving your face very close to his.
- Destroy a construction, such as a block tower.
Freud, Sigmund. Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. London: Penguin Books, 1916, 1991.
Mireault, Gina; Poutre, Merlin; Sargent-Hier, Mallory; Dias, Caitlyn; Perdue, Brittany; and Myrick, Allison. "Humour Perception and Creation Between Parents and 3- to 6-month-old Infants," Infant and Child Development, 21:4(338-347), July/August 2012.
Reddy, Vasudevi. "Infant clowns: The interpersonal creation of humor in infancy, Enfance, 53:3(247-256), 2001.
Like this experiment?
Buy "Experimenting With Babies," which contains 50 other fascinating science projects you can perform on your kid. It makes a great gift for new parents!