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Infant Humor

 

Techniques Using humor > Infant Humor

Unconventional usage | Mis-naming | Category errors | Breaching taboos | Body movements | Tickling | Chasing | Peekaboo | Discussion | See also

 

Do young children have a sense of humor? Indeed they do. Researchers Elena Hoicka and Nameera Akhtar filmed 47 parents with their children, aged between 2 and 3. They found several types of humor at play. Things the infants found funny are discussed in the categories below.

While adults are a long way from being infants, they are still influenced by this most basic of human states. If you can understand the underlying principles of what is going on, then you can use the types of infant humor in adult situations, helping to relax people and gain rapport.

Unconventional usage

Description

Taking an everyday object and using it in an unconventional way.

Example

  • Painting with a sock.
  • Eating a brick.

Discussion

This creates unexpectedness, which is at the core of most humor. When you see a person picking up an object, you expect them to use it in the way that people usually use the object.

Being unconventional in adult life also causes confusion yet can shake up perception and get people to see things differently.

Mis-naming

Description

Taking an object or person and deliberately describing it with the wrong name.

Example

  • Pointing to a dog and saying 'it's a cat'.
  • A mother saying 'I think I'm daddy'.

Discussion

When an adult does this it gives the child an opportunity to practice the parent role, saying 'You are wrong. I know the right answer'. This is an exciting prospect for many children as they taste the position of authority and superiority that they will chase for the rest of their lives.

For adults, this can be used for example with metaphor to expand perception by adding a different viewpoint.

Category errors

Description

Taking something from a category and saying something about it that is wrong.

Example

  • Pointing to a dog and saying 'moo'.
  • Taking a toy cow and making barking noises.

Discussion

This also gives opportunity for authoritarian delight. It can also be done just for the fun of confusing others, which is a principle that many adults still find fun, although people confusing one another tends to be more sophisticated (for example in puns).

Breaching taboos

Description

Saying or doing something that is generally considered to be 'naughty'.

Example

  • Burping loudly, then laughing.
  • Saying 'Jenny's a poo'.

Discussion

Humor can be seen when the child openly laughs as they break the taboo or even draws attention to this. This is in contrast to being naughty for other reasons and hiding the action.

Breaking taboos is something in which teenagers and young adults also revel. One reason is that this shows they are in control rather than parents. Taboo-breaching is a common theme in stand-up comedians who provoke what is perhaps nervous laughter with risquι comments.

Taboos can paralyze whole companies and breaking these can be a release, although the person doing so may be risking their career at the same time they are being lauded by their peers for their courageous openness.

Body movements

Description

Moving the body in exaggerated or unusual ways.

Example

  • Falling over backwards and holding feet in the air.
  • Swinging arms around the place.

Discussion

Infants are still discovering their bodies and find different ways of using them fascinating. A reaction to something new is to laugh. Young children have much to laugh about with regard to their bodies. By the time we become adults, this is mostly faded, though it can still be seen in such as slapstick humor.

Tickling

Description

Tickling another person, stroking their body in places that causes laughter, for example under the arms and on the soles of feet.

Example

  • Adults tickling the child
  • The child wanting to tickle the adult

Discussion

Tickling is a curious phenomenon. Some people are not ticklish, but for those who do it only tickles when another person does the tickling (although you can get some sensation by tickling one side of the body with the opposite hand).

Children often delight in the anticipation of tickling as much as the tickling itself. This may be played out in a chase game.

Chasing

Description

The child is chased by an adult or another person who may be threatening to do something to them.

Example

  • An adult walks slowly towards the child arms outstretched saying that the child will be tickled. The child runs away, screaming with delight.
  • A child does something naughty and then runs away laughing as the parent tries to catch them.

Discussion

Chasing appears in repetitive adult patterns, such as the 'Catch me' game. It is also a basic of romantic situations where each person alternatively chases and then retreats, inviting the other to chase.

Chase can be running away from danger and practicing this flight is probably useful skill development. The 'safe danger' of fun leads to laughter as a release of the tension involved.

Peekaboo

Description

A person hides and then peers out, often saying something like 'peek-a-boo' or just 'boo'. With young children the 'hiding' may be done by closing eyes or putting hands over eyes.

Example

  • A parent plays a game of hands-over-eyes and saying 'peekaboo' with their child.
  • A child hides behind a pillar and says 'boo' as a person goes past.

Discussion

Young children naturally explore existentialist issues such as whether or not a person exists when nobody is looking at them. The ability to hide and then reappear has a magical quality that can be fun.

There is evolutionary benefit in being able to hide from predators and the infant game may be good practice for this. Older children develop this into other practice games such as hide-and-seek.

Discussion

Infant humor is natural human humor, done for deliberate pleasure. As such, it gives interesting insight into basic human nature and offers fundamental styles of humor that may be introduced into adult situations.

Some infant humor is exploratory as they delight in the new. Adults of course have less to find that is new, but this is still a prompt to seek out different things and ways that can become fun.

See also

Becoming a Child

 

Hoicka, E., and Akhtar, N. (2012). Early humour production. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 30 (4), 586-603

 

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