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29th Jan 2015

Awh, babies are really just tiny comedians, aren’t they?

An infant's humour is no laughing matter

Putting a pair of pants on your head might not be the kind of humour you want to display in the office or at dinner with friends (although each to their own), but to a toddler, silly antics like this are hilarious. Not only that, but goofiness actually helps to nurture and develop a child’s sense of humour.

Toddlers usually start to understand funny things that are meant to be laughed at when they are around 15 months old. Anything silly or slapstick, for example, will really tickle them because they know that it’s not meant to happen.

By around 24 months, you might find they start to enjoy more verbal humour, like watching you point to a picture of a cow and saying “woof” (hilarious); or taking part in their very own little stand-up routine by deliberately getting things wrong – pointing to their elbow when you ask them to show you where their nose is, being a particular favourite.

But babies can crack jokes before they can even start to walk or talk, according to a recent review of the literature in Current Biology by Vasudevi Reddy of the University of Portsmouth and Gina Mireault of Johnson State College; both of whom were inspired to investigate infant humour after observing their own children’s goofy behaviour.

It’s quite a new way of thinking about infant humour, considering it was once believed by many scientists that babies’ senses of humour were mostly reactive. “The theoretical predictions of the time about humour were that humour proper should not be possible until — at the earliest — the middle of the second year,” said Vasudevi in an email to Science of Us. ” The theoretical predictions about foiling others’ intentions or expectations were that such an ability should not be possible for at least another two years, when understanding about others’ intentions and expectations develops.”

They also write that when babies are about nine months old, they’re able to “tease” their parents; using the example of a nine month-old who offers an object to her dad, then moves her hand away as he reaches for it.

So when your toddler puts that pair of pants on their head to get a laugh out of whoever is in the room, they’re actually exhibiting some very impressive cognitive skills, just by demonstrating the ability to put themselves in another person’s shoes (or pants). You on the other hand, should know better; unless you’re doing it to help develop your child’s cognitive skills, of course. Remember, humour needs to be nurtured, so try tapping into your silly self and getting goofy.