LOL: Understanding Infant Humor

On a Monday morning, the recent release of an article entitled “Laughing matters: Infant humor in the context of parental affect,” caught my eye. Maybe laughter is the best medicine when it comes to spicing things up on a Monday morning! As it turns out, there is a unique interplay between the development of a sense of humor and its far reaching implications for future relationships, emotion regulation and the ability to navigate societal demands. Here’s a few key takeaways from the article:

  • Humor is cognitively complex. Interpretation of humor is dependent on a number of incoming visual, auditory, social and emotional cues that must fit within an appropriate context for humor. For something that seems to come naturally to us, it is quite amazing that young infants begin to develop this complex ability within the first year of life.
  • Humor develops in stages. At around 6 months old, children often look to their parents for cues before interpreting an event as humorous. At around 9 -11 months, infants are able to recognize what makes their parents smile & laugh and then attempt to elicit these responses from caregivers.
  • Humor is important for relationship development. The ability to interpret humorous situations and respond appropriately is one that may be related to relationship satisfaction among adults. With such large implications for future relationships, the study of infant humor and the complexity of its development is important.

This current study found that while young infants (5-7 month olds) do look to their parents for humor cues, they often smile and laugh at humorous events regardless of parent affect (smiling vs. neutral). However, the frequency and duration of laughter and smiling was indeed influenced by parent cues with children smiling/laughing longer when parents cued this response.

When thinking about this finding, it seems to mirror adults interpretation of humor within context. I think about how adults may initially perceive a joke to be funny and respond accordingly (laughter, smiling, etc.,) but then realize that their reaction should be dependent on the context. Are you at work? Among friends? We often look to others before fully committing to a hearty laugh in an office setting. How does this relate to the relationships you might develop at the office or among friends?

Infants bring so much joy into the world via smiling and laughter. Learning a bit about the development and implications of such a remarkably natural behavior is a great way to start the week.

Mireault, G. C., Crockenberg, S. C., Sparrow, J. E., Cousineau, K., Pettinato, C., & Woodard, K. (2015). Laughing matters: Infant humor in the context of parental affect. Journal of experimental child psychology, 136, 30-41.

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