Kids start to enjoy humor and jokes surprisingly early on, poll finds


A quick and easy parent survey allowed psychologists to track how kids first develop their sense of humor – and what they find funniest.

This is one of the best timelines we have to date when kids start to understand certain jokes and funny acts. Some forms of humor even seem to appear when they are only a few months old.

The questionnaire is called the Early Humor Survey (EHS) and consists of only 20 queries. First, parents of children between 0 and just under 4 were asked if their child laughs and if they enjoy or produce humor, whether verbal or physical.

Then the questions address specific types of humor, such as “Has your child ever seen someone make this type of joke?” “. These broad categories of humor include such topics as “Making fun of others eg calling someone a poo” or “Saying strange things / mixing up concepts / nonsense” such as saying “Cats have five legs. “.

When the survey was conducted among nearly 700 parents in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, researchers found a clear and consistent age-related trend in the emergence of humor, which regardless of the nationality of the child or the level of education of his parents.

In the first year of life, parents reported observing multiple ways their children enjoyed humor and sometimes produced it themselves.

More than 75 percent of parents, for example, said their children laughed when they were only two months old. By the age of one, virtually all parents reported the laughter of their offspring.

In general, the authors found that children enjoyed humor before they started producing it themselves. At 8 months, for example, 97.5% of parents said their children laughed at jokes or funny behaviors, such as when they cuckooed, tickled, saw a silly face, or heard a strange noise.

It is only later that children start to try these jokes for themselves. At almost a year old, the survey finds that around 50% of children act funny or say silly things, usually showing hidden body parts, misusing objects, chasing, teasing or inventing. strange words.

In the “terrible twos,” almost all of the children produce these same jokes, including more aggressive forms of humor like spitting water or pushing people.

By the age of three, kids even begin to create their own “meta” jokes, like telling a cow “quack” or deliberately labeling an object the wrong way.

The findings largely support previous research, which suggests that humor develops alongside our motor, social, and language skills. Yet, compared to other forms of play, studies of childhood humor are surprisingly limited.

When you consider how important humor can be for human social interactions, creativity, and well-being, that’s a big oversight. According to researchers, EHS is currently our most reliable way to measure this crucial sense in the first four years of life.

If the same age-related patterns can be replicated among even larger cohorts in different parts of the world, the survey could one day reveal a universal timeline for the development of humor – if there is one.

Yet while the survey appears reliable in the English-speaking countries tested, it does not include a comprehensive list of all types of humor, and it does have some key limitations.

The questionnaire is only based on a parent’s observations of their child’s humor, and while this gives us a better idea of ​​how children use humor in everyday life at home, it appears to differ from the results. more formal experiences.

“[W]Although EHS is reliable in terms of parental inter-observability, laboratory experiments do not necessarily capture the daily humor reported by parents, ”the authors write.

When the same researchers tested the humor level in 84 children with an official experimenter, they were unable to replicate the same humor development timeline seen in the EHS.

In these trials, the experimenter would model 21 jokes for children, interspersed with 21 “acts of control” that were not funny. For example, the experimenter holds up a toy horse and says, “The horse is neighing! Eh ! “

After each act, whether it was an act of control or an act of joking, the experimenter would ask the child to try the same.

In the end, the kids in the study laughed more at the joke trials than at the control trials. But when the authors checked for age, the results didn’t reveal a clear timeline.

The gap could boil down to the fact that the experimenter is a stranger, with whom children may feel shy or afraid to laugh or joke, but more research will be needed to unravel these mixed results.

In the future, the team hopes their survey will be used globally for humor research, allowing psychologists to focus on certain types of humor and how children of different ages are there. react.

The findings could also reveal how parents and educators can better incorporate specific types of humor into everyday lessons, books, TV shows, and games.

The study was published in Behavioral research methods.


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