A new study has shown that babies as young as six months old look to their parents to learn what they should find funny.
The research, carried out by Dr John Sparrow at the University of New Hampshire and Dr Gina Mireault of Johnson State College, looked at the response of 30 babies, aged between six and 12 months, to differing events.
Each child was shown both normal and absurd events, while their parents sat next to them with either an expressionless face, or pointing and laughing.
The results showed that at six months, babies’ reactions did not depend on their parents’ reactions, although they did look for longer at the absurd events and study their parents’ faces closely when they laughed.
At 12 months, however, the babies laughed at the absurd events, even when their parents showed no reaction, indicating that they had taken emotional guidance from their parents.
This phenomenon, known as social referencing, is already known to kick in at eight months when babies look to their parents to ascertain if a situation is dangerous or should be feared.
These results indicate that six month olds are using their parents as a source of emotional education, long before they can begin to make up their own minds about what is absurdly funny or not.