Humor development in children

Hardiman, Nicole
O'Connor, Meghan
Carlson, Jenna
Magee, Noelle
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Southern New Hampshire University
Studying children's humor development can be a window into children's social and cognitive development. According to McGhee (1974, 1976), both children and adults find jokes maximally funny when they are cognitively demanding and present an "incongruency" - that is, a violation of your expectations about how the world works. In order for an incongruency to be perceived as funny, you must have a sophisticated enough grasp of the concepts that the joke is about so that you perceive the incongruency, but at the same time, the joke must be "cognitively demanding" - that is, it can't be too obvious. This "Cognitive Congruency Principle" (McGhee, 1974, 1976; Zigler et al., 1966) has been demonstrated by showing that children in elementary school find jokes most funny when they are about concepts that children have recently mastered. Humor also contains a social component, requiring the ability to read and produce social cues to indicate that you are joking (McGhee, 1974, Hoicka & Akhtar, 2012). Hoicka and Akhtar (2012) suggested that humor was a socio-cognitive phenomenon and were curious to know if toddlers could produce novel humor, or if it all consists of copied humor patterns from their parents. They found that even children under 12 months of age "produce" humor through hide-and-seek and peekaboo games, and that many children begin to produce novel verbal and conceptual jokes around 2 years of age. Questions remain regarding the development of humor, more specifically the types of jokes/humor young children/babies use and how they differ across developmental stages. By evaluating children’s use of humor in the context of the "jokes" they engage in, we can more deeply understand why and how they use humor to communicate at their given age. (Author abstract)