7 Nov 2007
By observing Chula and Mieja, I have a rough humor development chart.
This got me quite interested in (1) What is sense of humor? (2) How does sense of humor develop in children? Are children born with it or do they acquire it? (3) What is the connection between intelligence and sense of humor? (4) Can it be conditioned? If so what can a parent do to encourage the child’s sense of humor? (5) Is there a universal pattern in the development of humor in children? (6) How does humor help a child?
I did a bit of research about this. People like Aristotle and Darwin did quite a bit of research and ended up just touching the tip of the iceberg. So I am definitely not doing full justice to this topic.
In simple words, humor is the ability to appreciate the unexpected.
Is humor nature or nurture? My understanding is that humor is acquired. Because, infants simply do not have the verbal and cognitive ability to process jokes. The baby laughing when tickled is just a response to physical stimulation. As they grow a bit, they see the adults laughing and mimic them. Then they see they can please the adults by laughing and they laugh. Then they realize that some thing falling down and the mother making a funny ‘oopsie-doopsie’ or a parent making a silly face is an unexpected action and they laugh in response to that. Humor development is strongly associated with the brain’s ability to process and support the processed information.
We do not see animals laughing. Nope I stand corrected, apparently it is proven that even rats ‘laugh’ when their ribs are tickled! But that is just a response to a physical stimulation. What I menat is animals do not perceive jokes and respond to that with laughter. Well, I am not counting chimps, they do seem to have a concept of humor, mostly slapstick. So sense of humor must be a sign of intelligence right? Looks like we human beings come with the biological capacity to laugh, make jokes and understand jokes. Our brains are ‘wired to take pleasure from humor and laughter’. There are three different zones in the brain, each with the synaptic information to process different kinds of jokes (semantic jokes, phonological jokes, and slapstick jokes). By correlating this information with the study (if I may call it so!!) of my daughters, I conclude that the zone for slapstick develops earlier. For the other kind of jokes the brain has to be mature enough to grasp the humor. So is a child shows the ability to understand a phonological joke or a semantic joke before she is expected to, it is logical to assume that her brain is quite mature for her age. Also to see through the current disaster, pick the sliver lining and make a joke about it requires complicated brainwork. So I am convinced that humor is definitely a sign of intelligence.
Yes, humor can be conditioned. Parents with good sense of humor have children with good sense of humor. The more humorous situations a baby is exposed to, the better his sense of humor.
At the risk of sounding too Baby center-ish here are some practical tips
A much as I would like to take credit for this humor development chart for children, it is NOT MINE. I found this section on the web. But I misplaced the link and I am not able to trace it. If some one finds this link, I will be happy to give credit to author.
Here are the general stages of development for what makes children laugh. Keep in mind, though, that it’s impossible to be specific about each child’s development, and stages typically overlap.
6-12 months: Takes delight in caregiver’s unexpected actions. Example: peekaboo.
12 to 15 months: Graduates from reacting to something funny to initiating it. Example: putting a cup on Daddy’s head and calling it a hat.
2 years: Makes “mistakes” to show mastery of a subject. Example: You ask her to show you her nose, she points to her knees.
3 years: Distorts known features of words, ideas, and objects. Example: asking for a dirt muffin and worm cheese; slapstick and potty humor.
4 to 5: The pre-riddle stage, when they have the form but not the content.
Example: “Why does the chicken cross the road?” “To go to bed.”
6 to 7: Riddles and knock-knock jokes.
This making mistakes to show mastery of a subject is how rubber duckie and donut originated! So Chula, Mieja can’t wait to hear your knock-knock jokes!
Sense of humor helps children the same way it helps an adult. Every one loves, accepts and are friends with a person with a good sense of humor. Apart from the social aspect, humor helps people get through the dull, boring, hard, hectic, painful, lousy, anxious, uncomfortable, dark phases of life. Jokes, especially phonological and semantic ones, will help cildren understand the subtility in language. Personally I developed my tamil by reading jokes from Ananda Vikatan/Daily Tandhi. Of course, all of us have heard about the bit laughter + endorphins = healthy body/life/mind.
Some more interesting information:
Coming back to one of my all time favorite topics, gender differences, sense of humor starts off the same in children of both sexes. Around 6 years or so, owing to the differences in brain development and the way the information is processed, there are certain things that are more appealing to boys than girls and vice versa. Girls like verbal humor, boys like physical, slapstick and off color jokes! Since society accepts boys making physical jokes, better than girls making physical jokes, the pattern gets set.
(If the full link is not displayed, click here to read the article.)