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  1. #1
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    The jokes that toddlers make

    The jokes that toddlers make
    BPS Research Digest
    Thursday, 15 November 2012

    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."

    Source: 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

  2. #2
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    Little comedians

    Little comedians
    BPS Research Digest
    Monday, 10 March 2008

    Toddlers as young as 19 months are able to distinguish jokes from mistakes - a skill that lays the groundwork for their later ability to recognise lies and false beliefs. That's according to Elena Hoicka and Merideth Gattis, who tested a large group of children aged between 19 and 36 months.

    Children were asked to copy actions made by the researcher - for example stirring a spoon in a cup, or combing their hair. Next, the researcher performed a range of joke actions (e.g. putting a boot on their hand), which they did laughing, and mistakes (e.g. putting a lid on a sugar jar so that it was not quite in place), after which they said "oops!".

    All the children, from 19 months upwards, copied the joke actions, but corrected the mistakes - a sign, the researchers said, that they were able to tell the difference between a mistake and a joke.

    After this, things got trickier. The researchers performed actions that could either be interpreted as a mistake or a joke: for example, putting a hat on so that it covered their eyes, or brushing their teeth with the wrong end of the brush. Half the time the researchers laughed afterwards, the rest of the time they said "oops!" The idea is that the ambiguous nature of the actions meant that, to know if a joke or mistake had occurred, the children had to be able to interpret the researcher's vocal response.

    This time an age-difference emerged. The proportion of occasions that the 19 to 24-month-olds copied or corrected these actions did not vary according to whether the researcher laughed or said "oops!". By contrast, the children aged 25 months and upwards, corrected more when the researcher said "oops!" and copied more when they performed the action laughing - a sign, the researchers said, that children of this age are able to distinguish humorous intent from mistakes.

    Elena Hoicka and Merideth Gattis said this means that the ability to recognise humorous intent comes after the ability to recognise jokes, but before the ability to recognise pretense and lies. "We propose that humour understanding is an important step toward understanding that human actions can be intentional not just when actions are right, but even when they are wrong," they concluded.

    Source: HOICKA, E., GATTIS, M. (2008). Do the wrong thing: How toddlers tell a joke from a mistake. Cognitive Development, 23(1), 180-190. DOI: 10.1016/j.cogdev.2007.06.001

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