YouTube's laughing baby flags psychology research

Posted on Friday 11th March 2011

This week’s widely viewed YouTube footage of an eight-month baby laughing at a piece of paper being ripped in half reflects brand new research being carried out by psychologists at the University of Birmingham.

The School of Psychology’s renowned Babylab is conducting a study into how infants’ brains process the actions of other people, including paper ripping and hand clapping, as part of research into how youngsters interpret observed actions.

The preliminary results show that the brains of infants and young children ‘perk up’ when they hear sounds like hands ripping paper compared to other sounds, presumably because they have a vested interest in other people and automatically orient their attention to the sounds other people make.  They also use specialist regions in the left side of the brain to process these actions.

‘Ripping paper and hand-clapping are two of the first actions that babies are able to perform,’ explains PhD student Chrysi Stefanidou, who is carrying out the research at the University of Birmingham with Dr Joe McCleery and their colleague, Rita Ceponiene, from the University of California. ‘We know that non-verbal communication is very important in development and we want to find out if there is a neural mechanism governing gesture development which might have implications for the treatment of children with autism. This mechanism may also explain why the baby in the film would find the paper being torn particularly appealing, especially if it was something he hadn’t seen before.’

Dr McCleery adds: ‘Typically developing infants and children seem to have an inborn preference to orient to other people and to attend to their actions and activities. This, in turn, gives them ample opportunity to learn important skills, such as playing games with others, using tools, and learning language.’

Notes to Editors

For more information, please contact Jenni Ameghino, University of Birmingham Press Office. Tel 0121 415 8134, email j.ameghino@bham.ac.uk.

This research is funded by the UK charity organisation, Autistica.

Learn more about the Infant and Child Laboratory by visiting http://www.icl.bham.ac.uk/