News: Laughter May Boost Learning

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Smiling baby

We all know laughter is the best medicine, but a team of French scientists has discovered that humour appears to help toddlers learn.

The results of an experiment by Rana Esseily and her colleagues, published in the journal Cognition and Emotion, revealed toddlers who laughed at the actions of an adult they were watching were better able to repeat those actions themselves.

Why laughter seems to be related to the toddlers’ ability to learn is not clear, but Esseily has two possible explanations.

The first relates to temperament. She says: “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.”

‘Laughing babies’ might have higher social skills or cognitive capacities, which allows them to interact more easily and makes them more amenable to mimicking others.

The second explanation is to do with brain chemistry. It is well known positive emotions increase dopamine levels in the brain, which in turn have a positive effect on learning. “Thus, the effect observed here might be a general effect due to positive emotion and not to humour or laughter per se,” she says.

More research needs to be done into the effect of humour on learning, of course, but parents about to embark on the unfunny business of toilet training might want to keep laughing – no matter what.