Babies know a joke when they hear it

Babies can tell when their parents are telling a joke according to research published in the Society’s British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

Mums and dads use a particular tone of voice when being humorous and when babies hear this, along with laughter, they understand that they are hearing a joke.

The study was carried out by Dr Elena Hoicka of the University of Stirling Baby and Toddler Lab and Merideth Gattis of Cardiff University. They asked 41 parents to read a book to their toddlers, aged from 19 to 24 months old.

Half of the parents read their baby a “caring-themed” book that included sentences such as “baby loves mummy’s cuddle”, which in this instance, included an illustration of a baby being bottle fed whilst cuddled by its mother.

The other participants read a funny book with sentences such as “mummy drinks baby’s bottle” accompanied by an illustration of a mother drinking from the baby’s bottle.

When parents were being funny, they spoke higher, louder and slower. The pitch of their voices rose gradually towards the end of the sentence, as though they were asking a question.

Dr Hoicka said: “By speaking in this way, parents made the sentences easier for the babies to understand, which might be helpful as jokes contain some very odd ideas.

“However, the parents didn’t want their babies to believe their jokes, so when joking the tone of their voice made the story sound uncertain, like they didn’t really believe what they were saying.”

To subscribe to the Society’s British Journal of Developmental Psychology visit the journals webpage.