Making toddlers laugh with your antics help them learn new tasks faster, a team of French scientists has discovered.
It has already been shown that making older children laugh can enhance many aspects of cognition such as attention, motivation, perception and/or memory, which in turn enhance learning.
Rana Esseily from Paris West University Nanterre La Defense and her colleagues, therefore, designed an experiment to see whether using humour could also have an effect on the ability of infants to learn.
Each of the 18-month-olds selected to participate in the study observed an adult using a tool to grab an out-of-reach toy.
In one group the adult simply played with the toy after retrieving it; but in the other group, the adult threw the toy immediately on the floor, which made half the children in that group laugh.
Children who laughed at the antics of the adults were able to repeat the action themselves more successfully than those who didn’t laugh, as well as those who were included in the ‘humourless’ control group, the findings showed.
“In this case, it is not humour per se that may have facilitated learning, but (that) temperamentally ‘smiley’ babies were more likely to engage with the environment and therefore to attempt and succeed at the task,” the authors suggested.
It could also be the case that ‘laughing babies’ might have higher social skills or cognitive capacities, allowing them to interact more easily with others and making them more amenable to mimicking the actions of others.
The second explanation the authors put forward relates to brain chemistry.
It is well known that positive emotions, like laughter or engaging well with an experimenter, can increase Dopamine levels in the brain, which in turn has a positive effect on learning.
The study was published in the journal Cognition and Emotion.