Primary page content

Doing baby science while still at high-school

How did a high school senior from New York end up designing a study of laughing babies with a research lab in London? How did I still manage to do original research despite the pandemic?

My name is Sophie Stumacher, and I am a high school student from Westchester, New York, just north of New York City. My school offers an intensive three year course, which helps guide students to complete an independent research project on a topic of their choice. One goal would be to experience real research and my project could also be entered in Science Fair competitions. But first I had to decide what science interested me.

Finding a topic

My interest in laughing babies was first sparked when I came across a textbook about developmental psychology. There was a three page chapter all about infant laughter. After I read it, I went straight to the nearest computer to do a quick Google search for “why do babies laugh?”. A few minutes later I realized something: no one knows the answer. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to pursue research in this topic.

My first step after picking a topic was to begin to read current literature, and eventually write a culminating review guide. I started reading journal articles in mid-November 2018, simultaneously writing my review guide until the end of February 2019. Mine ended up being a 43-page paper reviewing five articles that would enable me to familiarize myself with and show my understanding of the most current, important literature. Each student then independently reaches out to research professionals that would be willing to help guide the student through conducting a research project.

Finding a mentor

After reading a few of Dr. Addyman’s papers, I was excited to contact him at the end of March 2019, and delighted when he agreed to mentor me! Upon returning for my second year in the program, I looked for gaps in the literature that would lead to a possible study idea. By January 2020 I had come up with three potential studies ideas to share with Dr. Addyman. We decided to look into social laughter, and whether infants laugh more around people they know. This was based on Dr. Addyman’s previous study investigating the social laughter of toddlers who were already familiar, titled Social Facilitation of Laughter and Smiles in Preschool Children. In that study, all of the infants went to the same preschool, so they already knew each other. After reading it, I wondered, would the results have been different if the babies were strangers to each other? The idea for my original research was to analyze if the frequency of social laughter differs when the participant group is younger, as the original study included toddlers and not infants, and if the participants were joined with infants they had never met before.

Adapting for COVID-19

I continued to prepare for the research project, and began writing the start of my report. I talked with homestay companies and looked online for airplane tickets for a cross-Atlantic trip. However, because of travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all my plans came to a screeching halt. Dr. Addyman and I communicated weekly through Skype to redesign our research protocol. After several conversations about how we were going to adapt to me not being able to visit the lab, we decided that analyzing past data would be the best approach. Thankfully, Dr. Addyman was able to provide me with archival video data collected by him and his colleagues. These videos were first collected for a BBC documentary called the Babies: Their Wonderful World. My mentor and his colleagues initially collected video data from babies and their parents who performed five different jokes three times. They wished to investigate whether or not repetition had an impact on the frequency of laughter.

Jokes for babies

After a creative Skype call, we agreed to look at the latency to laughter period, which indicates the time between the joke and the first instance of laughter. Furthermore, we wanted to test whether or not the latency period would be impacted because of age or joke type. The data that we used from the original study had a large variety of participants and five different jokes. Dr. Addyman and I decided to only test participants that fell within the range of six-to-eighteen months, and only three out of the five jokes. The two cohort ranges for age were the younger cohort (6-12 mos) and the older cohort (12-18 mos). Additionally, the three different joke types were conceptual, absurd, and uncategorized. The conceptual joke was a simple game of Peek-a-boo, the absurd joke was a game called Not-A-Hat, which consisted of an object other than a hat placed on the parents head and the parent exclaiming “Look at my new hat!”, and the last joke type, uncategorized, was a parent ripping a piece of paper in front of their child, which was called Tearing Paper.

What we found

Upon completion of the experiment we found that the older cohort ended up having a longer latency time, which was the opposite of what was expected. I initially believed that because the older infants would have more opportunities to understand laughter they would have a shorter latency time. In addition, the conceptual joke, or Peek-a-boo, had a significantly shorter latency time. This was expected, as infants that are older would hopefully have had more opportunities to experience humor. Although not all values resulted in statistical significance, there is still a great deal to be gleaned from the gathered data.

Investigating laughter and latency periods plays an important role in nurturing a well-established connection between parent and child. Attachment is considered the cornerstone of healthy emotional development in infancy and is related to a variety of long-term positive developmental outcomes. By improving understanding of latency, we can hopefully foster a more secure attachment between parent and child. As we continue to strengthen our understanding of infants, we come closer to finally figuring out just why an infant laughs, as well as the sheer importance of this behavior for the future.

What I learned

Overall, my time in the program my school offered, as well as the time I spent working with Dr. Addyman, was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had. I learned so many hard and soft skills ranging from developing confidence to communicate with a professional researcher, reading in depth and complex literature at a high school age, to improving my public speaking. Not only that, but I have now written both an intricate review guide and a report on a study of my own, which transformed my ability to effectively communicate science. More specifically, I used, with the help of Dr. Addyman, a video coding program called DataVyu and Jamovi, which is a statistical analysis program. On top of it all, I had to navigate adapting to a worldwide pandemic. I was both taught and learned so many valuable lessons and skills that I will only continue to improve and use in the future. I am exceptionally thankful and appreciative of Dr. Addyman and all of the time and help he provided me for two years. This experience was life changing, and I am hopeful that I will continue to do research in the future!

Sophie Stumacher, March 2021

We’re happy to report that Sophie’s project won the following awards:

  • Westchester Rockland Junior Science and Humanities Symposium 2nd Place in Behavior
  • Westchester Science and Engineering Fair 3rd Place in Behavioral & Social Sciences

Sophie was also a presenter at Harvard University’s International Youth Research Conference

You can see her presentation here:

Infantlab Update – February 2021

Here’s a short update with news from Goldsmiths Infantlab. Because of COVID it’s nearly a year since we were last in our lab but we’re happy to say that research has been continuing as best we can. We have a couple of online studies running at the moment.

Take part in our research at home

12-24 month olds
Dr Evelyne Mercure has a questionnaire study looking at language development and maternal well-being during lockdown. It is mostly appropriate for mothers of babies between 12 and 24 months.

Click here to take part.

24-30 month olds – Musical abilities

We have teamed up with Cambridge Babylab to create a fun video study of toddlers drumming abilities. We’re looking for families with children aged 2 – 2.5 years to take part.

This helps us learn how controlling rhythm is related other developing skills.

The study takes ~15 minutes and can be done at home using your computer (and a table to bang on!)  Click here to take part

More soon

There will be several more dancing baby studies starting in the coming months. To keep an eye out please follow our Facebook page

Caspar on the BBC

If you have any fans of Cbeebies in the house, then look out for Caspar in the new series of Operation Ouch.

I also did an interview for the BBC Tiny Happy People website –


The Laughing Baby

Caspar’s popular science book The Laughing Baby came out in April 2020. It’s all about the science of why it’s great to be a baby. To give you a taste of what it’s all about I made a video about Six superpowers we gained by being babies.

You can buy the book at Amazon or at


Goodbye NatasaNatasa Ganea

Our PhD Natasa Ganea will be leaving us shortly when she does PhD oral exam next month.

She has been with us since 2016, in that time she had at least 216 babies take part in her studies. If you have visited our lab you probably met her. She wants to say goodbye and thanks again to all the babies who helped her.


All the best,

Caspar, Evelyne, Natasa and Zehra

Visiting Erasmus+ summer student from Istanbul

I had the opportunity to do my first internship with Erasmus+ as a Research Assistant at Goldsmiths University of London InfantLab in the UK. This internship was with my supervisor Dr. Caspar Addyman and also with a friendly, helpful and successful group of colleagues. My supervisor had another intern like me, Marena from Boston University (with EUSA), Maisha and Angel from Summer School (A Level Psychology students) and with three PhD students Nataşa, Zehra, Giulia (post-doc) and I had a chance to work with them in the InfantLab. All these three students need to work with babies to prove their theories and write their doctoral dissertations.

Betul in the infantlab with one of our participants

Betul in the Infantlab with one of our participants

Nataşa’s studies includes Voice Matching and Sounding Shapes, Zehra’s study Music in Infancy and Giulia’s study includes EEG in infants. And my supervisor has his own study called Happy Talk. During these studies, I helped them in the process of arranging the cameras in the room to be observed, preparing the certificates given to the participants, transferring the collected data to Excel, and after the studies on the basis of the reliability of the studies I did video coding and I had the opportunity to make observations during the study. I also learned thanks to my supervisor’s training the introduction to programming called R Studio, which is similar to SPSS but done by coding. As a result of this programming, I learned how to create and interpret tables in Excel.

The InfantLab is not only a place where I do my internship, it is a working environment that helps me to exchange a lot of ideas with my colleagues and to make new friendships, to learn new information about psychology and to improve my language. After an efficient and enjoyable two-month internship, I received my Erasmus+ certificate and said goodbye to the InfantLab.


Betül Aygün is studying Psychology at Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University in Turkey. She was an Erasmus+ student at Goldsmiths University of London InfantLab between 1st of July and 4th of September in 2019.



What it’s like to be an InfantLab intern

Our EUSA intern Emily Peachthong

Emily Peachthong, EUSA intern from Boston Univeristy

Being an intern here at the InfantLab at Goldsmiths University of London has been an extremely unique experience for me. Not only was this my first internship in a new country outside of my native one, but it was my first internship ever. I went into this experience with a lot to expect, in terms of cultural differences and what it’s like to be an intern. However, I also went into this experience with a lot unexpected as well. By the end of my internship at InfantLab, I can confidently say that I was completely satisfied with my experience here.

I was kept busy every day with a variety of tasks to complete. Almost every day, I was in the lab with my colleagues and with some of the cutest babies I have ever seen. I got to observe and assist in various capacities in different studies being conducted at the time. I learned so much as an observer, from how to prepare the equipment involved in testing to how to comfortably interact with the babies. As an intern in the lab, I was completely comfortable with the tasks I was given. I had roles that were within my capability, and roles that led me to learn and grow in my skills. Plus, getting to hang out with babies is always an added bonus. I spent a lot of time in the lab getting to play with baby toys and blow bubbles, and I can assure that it’s always a good time.

In addition to assisting during testing, I also spent a significant amount of time in the lab recruiting parents and their babies to take part in our studies. Quite frankly, this was one of my favorite roles in the lab because the more time that passed with my being there, the more I learned how to meet the needs of the lab in an organizational way. I learned along the way that there is a lot to keep in mind when booking babies for the lab: correct age group; how to reflect the needs of the studies; how to comfortably and appropriately talk to parents; etc. This was one of my favorite tasks at InfantLab because not only did I gain a practical skill in recruiting participants, but it certainly helped in strengthening my organizational skills as well.

Another huge component of my time as an intern involved editing and redesigning the InfantLab’s website. This task involved changing around color and photos, and reshaping the organization and hierarchy of pages within the website. I’ve never taken on a role like this before at a job in the past. It was challenging at times, but also an educational and creative role that I engaged in. I am proud of the final product, and it is nice to know that I have this tangible piece of work to look back on of my time here at InfantLab.

There are so many more aspects of my internship at InfantLab that I truly appreciate. I was involved in the studies being conducted, and in future projects that were in their beginning stages. I got to read many interesting research papers. I even worked closely with MIT in preparation for an online study. Most of all, one of the biggest aspects of InfantLab that I appreciated was the very lovely community that made up the team. Everyone at InfantLab was friendly, and always willing to answer my questions and to teach me something new. I’m extremely grateful for how welcoming everyone made me feel. InfantLab was an incredible experience to embark upon during my time in London, and I wish any future intern or any member to have as great a time as I did!


Emily Peachthong was InfantLab intern from October to December 2018. She came to us through the EUSA internship program