Laughing matters: Infant humor in the context of parental affect

J Exp Child Psychol. 2015 Aug:136:30-41. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2015.03.012. Epub 2015 Apr 17.


Smiling and laughing appear very early during the first year of life, but little is known about how infants come to appraise a stimulus as humorous. This short-term longitudinal study explored infant humor perception from 5 to 7 months of age as a function of parental affect during an absurd event. Using a within-participants design, parents alternated smiling/laughing with emotional neutrality while acting absurdly toward their infants. Group comparisons showed that infants (N = 37) at all ages smiled at the event regardless of parental affect but did so significantly longer at 5 and 6 months, and more often and sooner at 7 months, when parents provided humor cues. Similarly, sequential analyses revealed that after gazing at the event, 7-month-olds were more likely to smile at it only when parents provided humor cues and were comparatively more likely to look away when parents were neutral. Thus, starting at 5 months of age, parental affect influenced infants' affect toward an absurd event, an effect that was magnified at 7 months. These results are discussed in the context of emotional contagion, regulation, and the emergence of social referencing.

Keywords: Emotional development; Infant humor; Laughter; Positive affect; Smiling; Social cognition; Social referencing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Affect*
  • Cues
  • Facial Expression
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Behavior / psychology*
  • Laughter / psychology*
  • Male
  • Parents / psychology*