Babies Have Sneaky Ways to Get You to Smile

Babies are smarter than we think—and it turns out their non-verbal communication is right on point. So if you're tempted to smile at your baby, there's a reason.

Babies Have Sneaky Ways to Get You to Smile OPOLJA/Shutterstock

As parents, we're willing to do almost anything to get our babies to smile. All those hours of playing peek-a-boo are worth it, just to see their little faces light up. And we're going to let you in on a little secret: Babies know how to work it!

A smile for a smile

From 4 months old, babies smile in order to make the person they're interacting with smile in return—and not only that, they do it with certain timing to maximize the response, according to a new study published in PLOS ONE.

For the research, scientists from the University of California, San Diego and the University of Miami took data from a previous face-to-face study that measured the interactions of 13 pairs of mothers and their infants under four months old, including the smiling activity of both parent and child. When they analyzed the results they found that 11 of the 13 babies studied were intentionally smiling.

"This is something that most parents suspect already, but that was very difficult to prove scientifically," Javier Movellan, a research scientist in the Machine Perception Laboratory at the University of California, San Diego, and one of the study's authors, tells Fit Pregnancy. "[With the study], we are telling parents: You are right. Your baby is really trying to communicate with you. At least we know that this is the case by 4 months of age."

Smiling for a reason

As for why infants want their moms to smile? "I would speculate that infants want their moms to smile for two reasons," says Movellan. "They like smiles and they like the feeling that mom is responding to them."

The key insight, he adds, is that from very early on babies have their own goals and are actively trying to interact and communicate with us in a non-verbal way.