[lit-ideas] (You get) The Joke's Infancy

  • From: Torgeir Fjeld <torgeir_fjeld@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Fri, 23 Nov 2012 14:06:04 +0000 (GMT)

Dear List,
News from the world of developmental psychology. Perhaps a reminder of the dual 
temprality introduced by Freud in Totem and Taboo: that there is a correlation 
between the development of humanity and the development of a human. Anyway, 
here's the joke since infancy. You get?
1. 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: 


Torgeir Fjeld
Oslo, Norway

http://independent.academia.edu/TorgeirFjeld ;

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