THURSDAY, Sept. 6, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Six-month-old babies closely monitor their parents to determine if something is funny, and this appears to help them develop a sense of humor, a small study suggests.
For the study, U.S. researchers studied 30 babies in their homes when they were 6 months old and 1 year old. Initially, the babies watched their parent react to two ordinary events in which a researcher read a picture book and showed a small red foam ball to the babies.
The two events were then changed to be absurd. The researcher bounced the open picture book on her head while she said "Zoop! Zoop!" and then put the foam ball on her nose while she poked at it and said "Beep! Beep!"
During this odd behavior by the researcher, the parents were told to either point and laugh at the researcher or to just stare without expression.
The 6-month-old babies stared longer at the absurd events than they did at the normal events, but their reactions to the events did not depend on their parents' responses. However, the babies did watch their parents closely when they laughed.
By the time they were 1 year old, the babies laughed at the absurd events even if their parents remained expressionless.
The combination of paying close attention to absurd events and to others laughing at those events when they are 6 months old may explain how babies develop the sense of humor they have when they're a year old, the researchers suggested.
The study was scheduled for presentation Sept. 6 at a British Psychological Society meeting in Glasgow, Scotland.
"Humor might seem like a frivolous topic, but it provides a vehicle for understanding infant development, in this case the development of social referencing. This study shows that 6-month-olds pay attention to 'unsolicited emotional advice' from parents during ambiguous situations that might be funny," study author Gina Mireault, of Johnson State College in Johnson, Vt., said in a society news release.
"Our findings suggest that 6-month-olds are starting to see parents as a source of emotional information, and this is likely to be an important step on the way to being able to obtain emotional advice from parents when this is needed, which we know infants do at 8 months. By 12 months, infants seem to have had just enough life experience to make up their own minds -- at least about what is absurdly funny," Mireault explained.
The data and conclusions of research presented at medical meetings should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics outlines the ages and stages of a child's growth and development.