Making a baby laugh is just the best. The fake sneeze is one preferred method used to induce a giggle or two from chubby, drooly infant cheeks. It works every time, but why do babies laugh at fake sneezing? I asked some behavioral health experts to find out.
Dr. Linda Lucas, Ph.D., licensed mental health counselor and assistant professor in the Department of Human Services at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, tells Romper that we cannot know for sure, for a good reason: Babies can't tell us. So, we turn to scientific research to clue us in. "Cognitive developmental psychology and social learning theory would afford us the knowledge that babies, during their development process, are learning how to communicate with language while picking up social cues," Lucas says. In other words, they're looking at our behavior and picking up on our laughter and desire to make them laugh. The result is they laugh. It's not just the fake sneezing — it's the intent behind it.
Licensed psychologist Dr. Alli Kert, Ph.D. agrees that communication is at the root of the reason babies laugh at fake sneezes. "Babies typically begin to laugh before they begin to talk, so laughing is one of their earliest forms of communicating with us," she tells Romper. At just a few months old, "babies become aware of the world and playing around with it begins to amuse them," she says.
It turns out that we bigger humans are their favorite subjects to play with. We are the ones they want to communicate and interact with, so we are going to get the biggest reactions. "At around 1 year old, many babies start to understand the social dynamic of games like peekaboo.," Kert says. "We can hypothesize that, similar to peekaboo, when babies laugh at adults’ fake sneezes, it is their way of socializing with us before they have the language to do so."
It's not just sneezing that will make them laugh. If you do something that makes you laugh at yourself, they'll laugh too. Fart noises are usually a win. Raspberries and even donkey sounds were popular with my brood. They're laughing because you're laughing, and that's actually pretty great.
Dr. Linda Lucas, Ph.D., licensed mental health counselor and assistant professor in the Department of Human Services at Beacon College