“That was actually Darwin’s hypothesis in observing his own son and he writes about this in “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.” He writes about this incipient laughter – he was the first one to recognize this as a built-in response that the baby has that really pulls the baby into the adult world or pulls adults into the infant world. It is such an important emotional connection.” 

Episode Description: We begin with recognizing the profound pleasure of sharing in an infant’s laughter. Gina walks us through the stages of involuntary smiling, which begins in utero, to voluntary laughing which begins at about 6 weeks of age. We discuss the influence of parents on whether a baby finds something funny. We also consider ‘incongruity’ and how it reveals the baby’s ‘theory of mind’ – what the baby understands about how others’ minds work. We come to appreciate teasing, which begins at around 6 months of age, and how it too reflects the baby’s awareness of others’ expectations. We also learn about the counterintuitive association between secure attachment and laughing. We close with Gina sharing with us her personal history that introduced her to the world of laughing infants.

Our Guest: Gina Mireault, Ph.D. is a Developmental Psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Northern Vermont University (USA). Her research focuses on humor development in the first year of life. She investigates how infants detect humorous events with implications for understanding critical developmental milestones like ‘theory of mind’, attachment security, and cognitive development. Dr. Mireault’s research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and Vermont Biomedical Research Network. Her work has appeared in numerous peer-reviewed journals including Human Development, Current Biology, and Infancy as well as in popular media outlets like The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, Science Daily, CNN.com, WebMD, American Baby, Parenting, and Salon. Her work has also appeared on NPR’s The Takeaway, PBS’ NOVA Science Now, NBC Nightly News, and CBC’s The Nature of Things

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