Skip to main content

Young Children’s Play and Humor Development: A Close Theoretical Partnership

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Research on Young Children’s Humor

Part of the book series: Educating the Young Child ((EDYC,volume 15))

Abstract

Play and humor have strong theoretical and conceptual links, in that both are enjoyable, reality bending, cognitively rich, internally motivated and controlled, and facilitated by social interaction. There is a small body of work describing how early play and early humor develop from similar sources and how they are connected and differentiated at various ages. Although some theorists have described possible connections between play development and humor development and hypothesized that they arise from similar sources, most play researchers have not focused on how this linkage is manifested in young children. Children’s humor is closely connected not only to their play, of course, but also their emotional, communicative, and metacommunicative competence. Humor development is particularly related to their increasing ability to recognize conceptual incongruity, and examples of such ability is often manifested during their play experiences. This chapter reviews the theoretical background supporting the play/humor linkage, discusses social-emotional and cognitive aspects of early play/humor development, and gives examples of this linkage drawn from the author’s own research and the research of others. Implications for fostering the play and humor development of both typically and a-typically developing young children also is discussed.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Chapter
USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD 119.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 159.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 159.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  • Aimard, P. (1992). Genese de phumour. Devenir, 4(3), 27–40.

    Google Scholar 

  • Airenti, G. (2016). Playing with expectation: A contextual view of humor development. Frontiers in Psychology, 7, 1–12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01392

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Angeleri, R., & Airenti, G. (2014). The development of joke and irony understanding: A study with 3-to 6-year-old children. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology/Revue Canadienne de Psychologie Expérimentale, 68(2), 133.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bariaud, F. (1989). Age differences in children’s humor. Journal of Children in Contemporary Society, 20(1–2), 15–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bateson, G. (1956). The message “This is Play”. In B. Schaffner (Ed.), Group processes: Transactions of the second conference (pp. 145–242). New York, NY: Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bergen, D. (1989). Characteristics of young children’s expression of humour in home settings as observed by parents. International Journal of Educology, 3(2), 124–135.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bergen, D. (1990). Young children’s humor at home and school: Using parents and teachers as participant observers. Paper presented at Eighth International Conference on Humor, Sheffield, UK, July.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bergen, D. (1998). Development of the sense of humor. In W. Ruch (Ed.), The sense of humor: Explorations of a personality characteristic (pp. 329–358). Berlin, Germany: Mouton deGruyter.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Bergen, D. (2001). Finding the humor in children’s play. In J. L. Roopnarine (Ed.), Conceptual, social-cognitive, and contextual issues in the fields of play (Play & Culture Series) (Vol. 4, pp. 209–220). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bergen, D. (2002). Finding the humor in children’s play. Play and Culture Studies, 4, 209–222.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bergen, D. (2003). Humor, play, and child development. In A. Klein (Ed.), Humor in children’s lives (pp. 17–32). New York, NY: Greenwood Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bergen, D. (2007). Humor as a facilitator of social competence in early childhood. In O. Saracho & B. Spodek (Eds.), Contemporary perspectives on socialization and social development in early childhood education (pp. 19–38). Charlotte, NC: Information Age. Pub.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bergen, D. (2009). Gifted children’s humor preferences, sense of humor, and comprehension of riddles. Humor, 22(4), 419–436.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bergen, D. (2012). Does pretend play matter? Searching for evidence: Comment on Lillard, Lerner, Hopkins, Dore, Smith and Palmquist. Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 45–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bergen, D. (2013). Does pretend play matter? Searching for evidence: Comment on Lillard et al. Psychological Bulletin, 39(1), 45–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bergen, D. (2015). Play as a context for humor development. In D. F. Fromberg & D. Bergen (Eds.), Play from birth to twelve: Contexts, perspectives, and meanings (pp. 159–172). New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Bergen, D. (2017). Parent’s reports of child humor. Paper in preparation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Black, B. (1992). Negotiating social pretend play: Communication differences related to social status and sex. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly (1982-), 38, 212–232.

    Google Scholar 

  • Blanc, R., Adrien, J. L., Roux, S., & Barthélémy, C. (2005). Dysregulation of pretend play and communication development in children with autism. Autism, 9(3), 229–245.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Boyd, B. (2004). Laughter and literature: A play theory of humor. Philosophy and Literature, 28(1), 1–22.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bremmer, J., & Roodenburg, H. (1997). Introduction: Humour and history. In A cultural history of humour from antiquity to the present day (pp. 1–10). Cambridge, MA/Malden, MA: Polity Press/Blackwell.

    Google Scholar 

  • Caron, J. E. (2002). From ethology to aesthetics: Evolution as a theoretical paradigm for research on laughter, humor, and other comic phenomena. Humor, 15(3), 245–282.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Chewings, C. (1936). Back in the stone age: The natives of Central Australia. Sydney, Australia: Angus & Robertson.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dowling, J. S. (2014). School-age children talking about humor: Data from focus groups. Humor, 27(1), 121–139.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ellis, M. J. (1973). Why people play. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ellis, M. J. (1998). Play and the origin of the species. In D. Bergen (Ed.), Readings from play as a medium for learning and development (pp. 29–31). Portsmouth, NH: Heineman.

    Google Scholar 

  • Freud, S. (1905). Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, 8, 1–247.

    Google Scholar 

  • Freud, S. (1960). Jokes and their relation to the unconscious. New York, NY: Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  • Frost, J. L., Wortham, S. C., & Reifel, R. S. (2001). Play and child development. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill, Prentice Hall.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gaynard, L. (2015). Play as ritual in health care settings. In D. Fromberg & D. Bergen (Eds.), Play from birth to twelve: Contexts, perspectives, and meanings (3rd ed., pp. 349–360). New York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gervais, M., & Wilson, D. S. (2005). The evolution and functions of laughter and humor: A synthetic approach. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 80(4), 395–430.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gordon, N. S., Burke, S., Akil, H., Watson, S. J., & Panksepp, J. (2003). Socially-induced brain ‘fertilization’: Play promotes brain derived neurotrophic factor transcription in the amygdala and dorsolateral frontal cortex in juvenile rats. Neuroscience Letters, 341(1), 17–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Groos, K. (1898). The play of animals. New York, NY: D. Appleton.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Hill, C. (1996). Ego development, creative humor and play in a ‘good enough’ mothering experience: An infant observational study. Australian Journal of Psychotherapy, 15(1), 82–91.

    Google Scholar 

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

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hoicka, E., & Gattis, M. (2008). Do the wrong thing: How toddlers tell a joke from a mistake. Cognitive Development, 23(1), 180–190.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hoicka, E., & Martin, C. (2016). Two-year-olds distinguish pretending and joking. Child Development, 87(3), 916–928.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Huizinga, J. (1950). Homo Ludens: A study of the play-element in culture. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Iwaniuk, A. N., Nelson, J. E., & Pellis, S. M. (2001). Do big-brained animals play more? Comparative analyses of play and relative brain size in mammals. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 115, 29–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Johnson, K. E., & Mervis, C. B. (1997). First steps in the emergence of verbal humor: A case study. Infant Behavior and Development, 20(2), 187–196.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Klein, A. (1985). Humor comprehension and humor appreciation of cognitively oriented humor: A study of kindergarten children. Child Development, 56, 223–235.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lewis, J. B., Lupton, L., & Watson, S. V. (2000). Relationships between symbolic play, functional play, verbal and non-verbal ability in young children. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 35(1), 117–127.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lillard, A. S., Lerner, M. D., Hopkins, E. J., Dore, R. A., Smith, E. D., & Palmquist, C. M. (2012). The impact of pretend play on children’s development: A review of the evidence. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0029321

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Loizou, E. (2006). Young children’s explanation of pictorial humor. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33(6), 425–431.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Loizou, E. (2016). Young children’s appreciation and production of verbal and visual humor. Humor, 29(1), 99–124.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Masselos, G. (2003). “When I play funny it makes me laugh”: Implications for early childhood educators in developing humor through play. In D. E. Tytle (Ed.), Play and educational theory and practice (Play and culture series, Vol. 5, pp. 213–222). West Park, CT: Praeger.

    Google Scholar 

  • McGhee, P. (1979). Humor: Its origin and development. San Francisco, CA: Freeman and Co.

    Google Scholar 

  • McGhee, P. (2002). Understanding and promoting the development of children’s humor. Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mireault, G., Poutre, M., Sargent-Hier, M., Dias, C., Perdue, B., & Myrick, A. (2012). Humour perception and creation between parents and 3-to 6-month-old infants. Infant and Child Development, 21(4), 338–347.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • McGhee, P. E. (1971). Cognitive development and children’s comprehension of humor. Child Development, 123–138.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Piaget, J. (1962). Play, dreams and imitation in childhood. New York, NY: Norton.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pien, D., & Rothbart, M. (1980). Incongruity humour, play, and self-regulation of arousal in young children. In P. McGhee & A. J. Chapman (Eds.), Children’s humour (pp. 1–26). New York, NY: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pien, D., & Rothbart, M. K. (1976). Incongruity and resolution in children’s humor: A reexamination. Child Development, 47, 966–971.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Polimeni, J., & Reiss, J. P. (2006). The first joke: Exploring the evolutionary origins of humor. Evolutionary Psychology, 4(1), 347–366. 147470490600400129.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ramachandran, V. S. (1998). The neurology and evolution of humor, laughter, and smiling: The false alarm theory. Medical Hypotheses, 51(4), 351–354.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reddy, V. (2008). How infants know minds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Reddy, V., & Mireault, G. (2015). Teasing and clowning in infancy. Current Biology, 25(1), R20–R23.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Reddy, V., Williams, E., & Vaughan, A. (2002). Sharing humour and laughter in autism and Down’s syndrome. British Journal of Psychology, 93(2), 219–242.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Rossi, M. F. (2015). Laughing out loud: Humor usage in young childhood classrooms. Honors Theses and Capstones. 216. http://scholars.unh.edu/honors/216

  • Schiller, F. (1875). Essays aesthetical and philosophical: Including the dissertation on the “Connexion between the animal and spiritual in man”. London, UK: George Bell & Sons.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schultz, T. R., & Horibe, F. (1974). Development of the appreciation of verbal jokes. Developmental Psychology, 10, 13–20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Seashore, C. E. (1913). Psychology in daily life. New York, NY: Appleton.

    Google Scholar 

  • Semrud-Clikeman, M., & Glass, K. (2010). The relation of humor and child development: Social, adaptive, and emotional aspects. Journal of Child Neurology, 25(10), 1248–1260.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sherman, L. W. (1975). An ecological study of glee in small groups of preschool children. Child Development, 46, 53–61.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sinclair, A. (1996). Young children’s practical deceptions and their understanding of false belief. New Ideas in Psychology, 14(2), 152–173.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Southam, M. (2005). Humor development: An important cognitive and social skill in the growing child. Physical & Occupational Therapy in Pediatrics, 25(1–2), 105–117.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Spencer, H. (1855). The principles of psychology. London, UK: Longman, Brown, Green, & Longman.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Stern, D. N. (1974). Mother and infant at play: The dyadic interaction involving facial, vocal, and gaze behaviors. In M. M. Lewis & L. Rosenblum (Eds.), The effect of the infant on its caregiver (pp. 187–213). New York, NY: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tener, D., Lev-Wiesel, R., Franco, N. L., & Ofir, S. (2010). Laughing through this pain: Medical clowning during examination of sexually abused children: An innovative approach. Journal of Child Sexual Abuse, 19(2), 128–140.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Varga, D. (2001). Hyperbole and humor in children’s language play. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 14(2), 142–146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Whitt, J. K., & Prentice, N. M. (1977). Cognitive processes in the development of children’s enjoyment and comprehension of joking riddles. Developmental Psychology, 13(2), 129.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Wolfenstein, M. (1954). Children’s humor: A psychological analysis. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Doris Bergen .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2019 Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Bergen, D. (2019). Young Children’s Play and Humor Development: A Close Theoretical Partnership. In: Loizou, E., Recchia, S.L. (eds) Research on Young Children’s Humor. Educating the Young Child, vol 15. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-15202-4_2

Download citation

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-15202-4_2

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-030-15201-7

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-030-15202-4

  • eBook Packages: EducationEducation (R0)

Publish with us

Policies and ethics