The Laughing Baby
By Caspar Addyman
The extraordinary science behind what makes babies happy and why
Publication date: April 2020Support this project
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The laughter of tiny babies is endearing, entrancing and infectious. It is powerful enough to reinvigorate even the most weary parent. It is also a fantastic window into what a baby is learning and experiencing. Long before they can talk babies can communicate their experience of the world through laughter and tears. Until now, however, psychologists and parenting experts have largely focused on moments of stress and confusion.
Dr Caspar Addyman is a developmental psychologist who decided to change that. For four years Caspar has run the Baby Laughter project collecting data, videos and anecdotes from parents all over the world. He learned that laughter and smiles are of central importance at the start of life. They define a baby’s cognitive and emotional development. Squeals of joy accompany all of a baby’s little breakthroughs. Laughs and smiles connect them to their nearest and dearest. It is how they reward you for the things they learn from you.
The Laughing Baby is the culmination of Caspar’s research. It is also a story of infancy itself. The most remarkable time when we lay down the foundations for everything that comes after. The book moves chronologically through the first two years of life. Looking at the physical, cognitive and emotional milestones in an infant’s life and the smiles and laughs that accompany them.
Readers will learn that being a baby is a lot like being a scientist: babies are confronted by a mysterious world and they learn by a process of experimentation. For babies, knowledge is its own reward and laughter is the soundtrack of all their little ‘Eurekas’. But the full story is bigger than that. Understanding babies helps us understand ourselves. Babies provide the origin story for our incredible abilities. Along the way, you will learn the world’s oldest joke, why music makes us happy, why babies find dogs funnier than cats and the somewhat gross origins of ticklishness...
This is an optimistic book. It’s joyful. It’s highly educational and hopefully, it will even make you laugh. The book won’t happen without your support so please pledge for your copy now or for one of our fabulous special rewards. Thank you.
Dr Caspar Addyman is a developmental psychologist who studies how babies learn about the world.
He is a lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London and previously spent a decade working at the world-renowned Birkbeck Babylab. He specializes in the study of learning in the first few years of life and have researched such topics as how we learn our first words, our first abstract concepts and how our sense of time develops. He also builds neural network models, trying to teach computers to learn in the same way as babies. Realizing that his colleagues had missed a trick by ignoring laughter he set up the Baby Laughter project (http://babylaughter.net). Over four years he has surveyed thousands of families all over the world to find out just what makes their babies laugh.
Caspar has undergraduate degrees in Mathematics (Cambridge) and Psychology (London) and a PhD in developmental psychology from Birkbeck. Before moving into academia he worked as chef and then spent 9 years working on financial trading floors. His first job as a trader involved shouting and waving his arm around but he got sacked for being too nice. So he moved behind a computer writing trading software that enabled other people to shout at each other. Falling asleep at his desk a little too often he realised he needed to escape and went to night school to become a baby psychologist. He never looked back. He has previously a written a novel, Help Yourself, about a self-help author who says you don’t need self-help books and a comedian who can’t tell jokes.
A baby’s first laugh is a magic moment. Parents have no trouble remembering it even years later. Happening anywhere from a few weeks old to 4 or 5 months, those early laugh will very likely be small and subtle, a light and breathy chuckle. A tiny baby cannot coordinate the rapid contractions of the intercostal chest muscles required to laugh properly but the sound is unmistakable nonetheless.
For Aristotle the first time we laugh marks the instant when our soul enters our body and the moment we become truly human. He thought that laughter was what separates us from the animals. He was wrong, of course. Other animals can and do laugh and the boundary between us and other species is a matter of degree, a question of genes and culture. As for the soul, nowadays we would probably call that consciousness and we understand that it dawns slowly.
But a baby’s first laugh is a very special event and one that feels transformative. Sometimes it is a spontaneous sound of wellbeing and satisfaction. I am warm and happy and full of mother’s milk. Sometimes it is a response to something the baby sees, like a shadow waving on the wall. Best of all is when it is the result of something a parent does; returning to the room or planting a ticklish kiss. However small that first ever laugh may be, parents will recognize in it the idea that “a laugh is a smile that burst”. It is the first time that a baby expresses their absolute delight with the world.
- 22nd October 2018 Babies and emotion
This weekend I was delighted to receive a beautiful copy of Schadenfreude by Tiffany Watt Smith. It is not an Unbound book but it does have a close connection to my own project because Tiffany and I have compared notes as our various projects have progressed. Tiffany is an historian of emotions and a parent of young childen. She even brought her son to our lab to take part in one of our studies...…17th September 2018 Manuscript submitted!
Hello everyone (remember me?)
I am extremely happy to report that the manuscript for The Laughing Baby is now with my editor. It has been nearly two years since we launched the project and at least four years since I started planning the book. I had no idea it would take this long and I thank you for your patience. This is one of the toughest challenges I've faced. This was harder than my PhD and…8th March 2018 Life, the universe and Markov blankets
Forty years ago today, on 8th March 1978, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was broadcast on BBC Radio for the very first time. I personally first heard it 12 years later, but since that time it has remained my favourite comedy ever. To celebrate the birthday of this remarkable show, book, film, computer game here is a section from my book. This is from a chapter on boredom, surprise and why babies…19th December 2017 Life Lessons from Laughing Babies
Back in July I was invited to give a TEDx talk in Bratislava. The title is supposed to be "Life Lessons from Laughing Babies" but they preferred Why Babies Laugh. The video is finally online so I thought I would share it with you. It was a nerve-wracking experience but hope you like the end result.
At the start of this year the book was about 25% funded and about 10% written. I…29th March 2017 100% Funded!
Thank you everyone. With your help and generous support we've done it. We have just hit the 100% funding target which means the Laughing Baby is definitely happening. I have a big smile myself.
Even more exciting, part of the final lump of funding came from a German publisher who bought the German rights. This only happened because they saw that book had support from readers. That's the magic…26th November 2016 The Sound of Happy
Chapter 13 is all about the magic of music. Ask any professional musician the secret of good music and they will tell you that above all else music is about communicating emotion. This seems to be no less true for babies. Music is a wonderful way to soothe a baby but happy songs and nursery rhymes provide some of the most reliable laugh & smiles.
This chapter examines some of the science behind…24th October 2016 Happy birthday to The Laughing Baby
Welcome to the blog. Here you'll find a bunch of snippets from the book and updates on how the project is going. A good place to start is at the beginning.
Here's the first few paragraphs of the very first chapter: I hope you like it.
Chapter 1 - What's so funny?
This baby is 7 seconds old & already delighted to be alive.
Laughter makes life worth living. It makes…
These people are helping to fund The Laughing Baby.