Messing with your baby... for SCIENCE!


Observation: babies respond to laughter with laughter of their own, even if they don’t get the joke.

Observation #2: babies develop the ability to respond to laughter before they develop the ability to distinguish a real laugh from a simulated one.

Objective: determine how stylized and fake-sounding a laugh can be, while still eliciting this response.

Methodology: untimed, nonrepeated trials in randomized order, during a period of time at which the baby is immobile, reasonably undistracted, and otherwise prepared for SCIENCE!, which is to say, dinnertime.

  • First trial: HA HA HA HA HA. Response: sustained giggle, exceeding the stimulus duration by a considerable amount.
  • Second trial: heheheheheheheheh. Response: A moment of stunned silence, followed by a single, sudden cackle.
  • Third trial: HO HO HO (trad. Santa Claus). Response: subject distracted by the intervention of a canine attempt to clear high chair tray of obstructions, e.g. food; no apparent direct response to stimulus. Canine was removed from study area before testing continued.
  • Fourth trial: HAA ha (The Simpsons’ “Nelson” laugh). Response: uproarious sustained belly laugh, banging of spoon against tray
  • Fifth trial: MWAA HA HA HAAAAaaaaah (cf Lugosi) Response: polite and gently pitying smile, as one would give at a cocktail party to someone who has failed to properly deliver a punchline
  • Sixth trial: trad. NERD LAUGH, in which sound is produced during the inhalation rather than the more typical reverse. (Note, this most closely approximates the test subject’s own usual style of laughter.) Response: without breaking eye contact, subject grabs milk bottle, immediately drains same.

Testing was halted at this point, as the subject’s discovery that replacement milk would not be forthcoming produced an environment not conducive to further study.

Sample size 1; margin of error ~100%. Further study and grant funding is clearly required.