Thursday, 15 November 2012

The jokes that toddlers make

Few sounds can be as heart-warming as a chuckling toddler. Often they're laughing at a joke you or someone else has performed, but what about their own attempts at humour? To find out, Elena Hoicka and Nameera Akhtar filmed 47 parent-child pairs (just five involved dads) playing for ten minutes with various toys. The kids were English-speaking and aged between 2 and 3 years.

Coding of the videos revealed 7 forms of humour performed by the toddlers: using objects in an unconventional way (e.g. brushing a pot); deliberately mislabelling things (e.g. holding a cat but saying "here's a fish"); making deliberate category errors (e.g. making a pig go "moo"); breaching taboos (e.g. spitting and saying "that's disgusting"); performing funny bodily actions (e.g. falling back and putting their legs in the air); tickling and chasing; and playing peekaboo.

There were signs of maturing humour abilities. The three-year-olds more often made conceptual humour than the two-year-olds, and they showed a trend towards more label-based humour. Two-year-olds depended predominantly on object-based humour. Moreover, whereas the two-year-olds were just as likely to copy or riff off their parent's jokes as to make their own original attempts at humour, the three-year-olds most often came up with original jokes.

There was also good evidence that the toddlers were being deliberately humorous and not just making mistakes. When engaged in a funny behaviour versus an unfunny act, they were four times as likely to look and laugh at their parent, twice as likely to laugh without looking, and three times as likely to smile and look. "Children only increased smiling in combination with looks to parents, indicating parents should share their humour," the researchers said.

An online survey of 113 British parents (9 dads) about their children's humour largely supported the observational data. The children in this sample included infants and so an extended timeline of humour-production was possible. Before one year, infants mainly produced humour through peekaboo; from one year they graduated onto chasing and tickling and funny body movements; from two years they started object-based, conceptual and taboo-based jokes; and from age three they started label-based jokes.

The researchers said their results showed: "toddlers produce novel and imitated humour, cue their humour, and produce a variety of humour types."


Hoicka, E., and Akhtar, N. (2012). Early humour production. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 30 (4), 586-603 DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-835X.2011.02075.x

--Further reading--
Little comedians.

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.


Ashley S. said...

Toddlers brains are like sponges, they absorb everything around them, so it does not surprise me that they can pick up humor. When my cousin was 2, he laughed at everything and anything that made him laugh and he would try to replicate the humor to someone in the family, which was funny in itself. It amazes me how much children can absorb and how they can apply that information at such a young age.

Kristen Brown said...

Toddlers are so cute when they try to be funny. I think it was interesting how the experiment was carried out with a parent and their child. I wonder if the result would be different if the child had to react with a teacher or stranger. Do you think the way the toddlers attempt to be humorous has to do with their attachment with their parents? IF a child has a secure attachment, will he or she be more outgoing with their playful jokes verses a child with an insecure attachment?

Unknown said...

This is just demonstrated by the fact that children take things from their environment to better understand the world. According to Lev Vygotsky, children attain higher cognitive development through support and instruction received from the people around them. Relating to the study done with parents and their children, researchers have confirmed that interactions with older people help improve cognitive development. The fact that the toddlers copied or riffed off the parents jokes and tried to develop their own, reinforces Vgotsky's zone of proximal development in which he refers to the gap between what children can accomplish on their own versus what they can accomplish with the help of someone more competent. Maybe when the children look to their parents and smile, such "funny" behaviors are encouraged among the children when the parents smile too. I'm just making a claim of relation between what Vgotsky said and this study. Their cognitive development of their environment can be developed more through interactions with parents and encouraged using humor.

Anonymous said...

It is so interesting to see the changes a baby goes through in such a short period of time. But my question is how much do they change and what if you were to put them in an unfamiliar situation and do the same acts as you did say in the comfort of you home, would the react the same? Also if you do something to make your child giggle or laugh and you had a friend do the exact same thing, would the child react the same? I would do some research on that as well.

Amber S. said...

In my Psychology 101 textbook, Discovering Psychology, there is a chapter on lifespan development. Child development makes up a significant portion of this chapter.

Psychologist Jean Piaget came up with four stages of development that he believed people progress through. These four stages include the sensorimotor stage, the preoperational stage, the concrete operational stage, and the formal operational stage. The preoperational stage lasts from around age two to age seven, so the two- and three-year-old children in this experiment were most likely in this stage.

Children learn to use symbolic thought during this stage, which means that they gain the ability to represent the world by using words, images, and symbols. The toddlers in the article not only knew how to use labels correctly, but they used incorrect labels as a joke.

The children under two years of age were probably in the sensorimotor stage. In this stage, children begin to realize the effects they have on their environment and understand object permanence. Children's memories also improve and they develop schemas. The children under two in this experiment probably did not use symbolic thought yet, so their humor included peekaboo and funny body movements rather than mislabeling things as a joke.

Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky came up with the concept of the zone of proximal development. This refers to the gap between what children can achieve by themselves and what they can achieve with the help of others. The younger children copying their parents' jokes could be an example of this. The parents were more competent at humor, so their children relied upon them in order to stretch their own abilities to new levels.

Theresa DeCosty said...

As a newborn progresses through adolescence, that child’s cognitive development is important in helping them later in life. As a two-year old, their mind is constantly wandering and learning. They mimic every move their parent makes and that is why Lev Vygotsky believed that cognitive development is strongly influenced by social and cultural factors. He states that children are able to learn more by what they see and instructions given by a parent. Vygotsky’s idea of proximal development comes into play with the two-year old making jokes. They mostly feed off what their parents say whereas three-year olds find humor among themselves. Proximal development shows that with just a little of the parents assistance, these children can stretch their cognitive abilities to new levels. When the parent acknowledges to the child that their specific act was funny by a simple smile, they are reinforcing that behavior. Using humor as a reinforcement can only improve a child’s cognitive development within their environment.

Unknown said...

This behavior can be represented by Jean Piaget's second stage of cognitive development, The Preoperational Stage. This stage extends from age two to about age seven. Primarily we notice the development of Symbolic thought, which occurs between ages two and four. Here we notice the ability to use things like words and images to represent their world. The best way they exhibit this behavior is though fantasy and imagination while playing. So when we see mistakes the child made, it might just be their way of connecting things with what little they understand. Either way we can use these behavior to see just how much the children understand and how far they are in brain development.

Lindsey Robinson said...

In my psychology 101 book there is a chapter dedicated to lifespan development. Jean Piaget is the swiss psychologist whose theory is cognitive development. He believes that "children actively try to make sense out of their environment rather than passively soaking up information about the world. I feel that the children in this experiment were watching their parents and copying what they saw. Cognitive development is a continuous process. Also in the experiment it says that one of the children held a pig and said "moo" this shows they have symbolic thought and were trying to be funny by using humor. The children in this experiment could have either been in the sensorimotor or preoperational stages.

Thomas Witte said...

Young children will often do what makes their parents laugh. Since your laughing they may laugh too. But chances are the child doesn't understand how or why they are funny. But when individual acts are positively reinforced with laughter and attention, then the child will be more likely to repeat those actions.

zerrex said...

As stated by other, children soak up anything and everything around them. That is why you have to be careful around them. As to guess, It all has to do with their Language development. With humor, they are able to distinguish between serious and what can be considered funny. If a child grows up without any to little humor, then it can have problems socializing with others. Just remember, teach your kid as much as you can at a young age for it will help prepare them for the real world. Just be careful what you teach them.

dylan said...

At a the age of 2 to 3 the child learns from observing their environment. The child then increases the use of symbols and prelogical thought processes. As stated in the preoperational stage of the cognitive development theory proposed by Jean Piaget. For ages 2 and 3 the child's just starting this stage and is imitating their parents. Especially in the case of peek a boo the child has associated that action with laughter. Vygotskys theory of zone proximal states the gap between what a child can accomplish on its own and what they can accomplish on their own. As the toddles have observed their surroundings and parents sense of humor they start developing their own original jokes.

Anonymous said...

This is very true because it is also evident in people that are not infants. As you grow up your methods and types if humor change with you and tour Age. As am infant you don't necessarily comprehend a complex sorry telling joke. So you're going to observe others around you and portray you're own version of it.

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