A new study has shown that even babies as young as six months old can enjoy comedy.  

Researchers surveyed parents of nearly 700 infants between the ages of one to 47 months (just under four years) from four different countries. 

Children can begin to make their own jokes as soon as they are four months old, and children start to understand humor at the age of one. 

In all, the experts identified 21 different types of humour, including bodily humour, pulling funny faces, enjoying nonsense words and making fun of others – such as by ‘calling someone a poopoohead’. 

The new study identifies the earliest age humour emerges - one month - and how it typically builds in the first years of life

The new study identifies the earliest age humour emerges – one month – and how it typically builds in the first years of life

According to University of Bristol researchers, the findings reveal the age at which humour first emerges. 

‘Our results highlight that humour is a complex, developing process in the first four years of life,’ said lead author Dr Elena Hoicka, associate professor at Bristol’s School of Education.

“Given the importance of humor in many areas of our lives (children’s, adults’), it’s important to develop tools that allow us to understand how and when humour develops. This will enable us not only to better understand how and why humour appears, but also how it may be used by young children cognitively, socially and mentally.

Researchers created the 20-question Early Humour Survey (EHS) and asked the parents of 671 children aged one to 47 months from the UK, US, Australia, and Canada, to complete the five-minute survey about their child’s humour development

Researchers created the 20-question Early Humour Survey (EHS) and asked the parents of 671 children aged one to 47 months from the UK, US, Australia, and Canada, to complete the five-minute survey about their child’s humour development 

These researchers sought to identify the types of humour that are in an infant’s early development as well as the age at which they develop.

For parents with 671 babies, the team developed a 20-question survey that they called “Early Humour Survey” (EHS).

EHS requires parents to indicate whether their child finds certain jokes funny by ticking yes or not. This can be done by either the parent or other. 

The children in the program were between 1 and 47 months old. They were recruited from the UK, USA, Australia, or Canada.


Hide & reveal games: Peekaboo/ hide & seek, including variations, e.g., hiding objects in bags and revealing them 

Tickle: Tickling, including variations, e.g., using objects to tickle, e.g., stick or feather 

Fascinating faces: Pulling/making silly faces, e.g., scrunching up face

Bodily humour: Strange body movements, e.g., head through legs, kicking legs in air

Funny voices: Making strange voices (not just strange noises)

Chasing: Chasing, including variations, e.g., making toys chase each other

Use objects in a way that is not intended: Strange actions with objects, e.g., use wrong end of spoon, put cup on head

Tease: Teasing, e.g., offering an object and taking it away

Hidden body parts: Showing normally hidden body parts, e.g., lifting shirt to reveal tummy; taking off clothes

Others being scared: Scaring people, e.g., jumping out at them, or yelling

As if it were something else: Acting like something else, e.g., an animal, another person, etc.

Taboo subjects: Referring to gross things, e.g., poo, sneezing, smelly feet, etc.

Misslabelling: Mislabelling objects/events, e.g., calling a car a banana; could be in song, or intentionally giving you the wrong answer

Have fun: Making fun of others, e.g., calling someone a poopoohead

Agressive humor: Aggressive acts, e.g., spitting out water, throwing things, pushing people, etc.

Playing with Concepts: Saying strange things/mixing up concepts/nonsense (e.g., dinosaurs eat the wall; cats have 5 legs, dogs say moo), including nonsense variations of knock-knock/why did the chicken cross the road jokes

Nonsense words: Inventing words, e.g., schmoogly

Social rules and playing: Socially unacceptable situations, e.g., putting cat on dining table, saying naughty words, etc.

These are some tricks: Playing tricks on people, e.g., putting salt in the sugar bowl

Puns: Making puns, that is, jokes where words have double meanings, e.g., Why are fish so smart? Because they are educated in schools

Funny noises: Making strange noises, e.g., raspberries, shrieks, sneeze sounds 

The majority of parents only had their children surveyed once.

‘We had on average around 14 participants per month in age, but that varied dependent on the exact month,’ Dr Hoicka told MailOnline.  

The team found the earliest reported age that some children appreciated humour was just one month – specifically tickling.   

An estimated 50 per cent of children appreciated humour by the age of two months – not just tickling, but funny faces too.  

In the sample, there were 16 babies aged three months, 14 of whom – or 88 per cent – appreciated some kind of humour, the team found.

MailOnline: Dr Hoicka stated that three months is the time when humor really starts to flourish.

Human babies laugh during both inhalation and exhalation - just like chimps, experts at Leiden University in the Netherlands discovered

Human babies laugh during both inhalation and exhalation – just like chimps, experts at Leiden University in the Netherlands discovered

“Fourteen of sixteen three-month olds expressed humour appreciation. This included funny voices, tickling, peekaboo and bodily funny actions (e.g. kicking the legs in midair). 

Surprisingly, babies were only four months old when they developed their own form of humor. 

Four out of the 10 four-month-olds in the study were producing humour, according to the parents, in the form of making funny noises and bodily actions.

‘But it’s important to remember that’s a small group, and when we look at all the ages together, it seems a later age is more standard for kids to start producing humour,’ said Dr Hoicka.

At 11 months old, half of infants had their own sense of humor. Researchers also discovered that infants produce humour more often once they are born. All told, the team found that half of infants who had produced humour within the last 3 hours. 

Children younger than one year were most interested in physical, visual, and auditory forms humour.

You can find examples in hiding and revealing games, tickling and bodily humor (like running your hands through your legs), funny voices, noises and chasing and misusing objects (like placing a cup on the head).

One year-olds were open to different types of humor, including those that required others’ reactions. 

These included humiliating, taking off clothes and scaring people. The children also thought it was funny to behave like an animal.

The humour of a two-year old child reflects language development. 

This age group also had a tendency to be mean, as they enjoyed making fun of other people and using aggressive humor (like pushing another person).

Finally, 3-year-olds were found to play with social rules – for example, saying naughty words to be funny – and showed the beginnings of understanding tricks and puns.

It was interesting to note that there weren’t any differences in the births of the children from the different countries. Future studies may expand the sample to cover more cultures. 

Their new survey, according to Researchers, ‘eliminates a significant gap about when and how different forms of humor develop’. 

‘It has the potential, with more research, to be used as a diagnostic tool in early development in terms of developmental differences, and to help inform early years educators and the UK’s national curriculum for 0-5 years,’ said Dr Hoicka.  

These findings were published in Behavioural Research Methods. 


Young children are not just cheeky monkeys — it turns out they actually laugh like chimpanzees, too.

Research has shown that both babies as well as chimps can chuckle during inhalation and exhalation. This is unlike adults who exhale primarily. 

This may be due to babies not having great vocal tract control, similar to apes. Babies can laugh when they breathe. 

But as we age, our laughter becomes less chimp-like and more human, the Dutch researchers said. 

Humans and chimpanzees are both great apes (Hominidae) and chimps are our closest animal cousins – but laughter is one behaviour in which adults of both species differ. 

Mariska Kret (professor of cognitive psychology at Leiden University, the Netherlands) said that when an adult laughs they first inhale and produce a series of ‘ha ha ha!’ sound bursts. These sounds are louder than others, but then fade away. 

‘The [non-human]Although ape-types are more complicated to explain, there’s an alternative, she said to CNN.  

Humans and chimpanzees (pictured) are both great apes (Hominidae). The genus Pan consists of two extant species - the chimpanzee and the bonobo

The Hominidae include both humans (pictured) and chimpanzees. Two extinct species make up the genus Pan: the bonobo and the chimpanzee.

As babies get older they start to laugh more like grown-ups – perhaps because this kind of laughter gets a better reaction from their parents.

Co-author, Dr Disa Sauter of the University of Amsterdam said that although this topic had not been thoroughly researched before, every parent is well aware of how young infants are similar to chimpanzees. 

“It could be that babies learn how to mimic their parents and thus grow from this. 

For the study, the researchers collected audio clips of human babies aged somewhere between three months and 18 months old as they laughed.  

These audio clips were played to 196 volunteers and 15 expert phoneticians, who had to judge the extent to which the laughter was produced during inhalation or exhalation, and the extent to which they found the laughs pleasant and contagious. 

They rated laughing while exhaling more enjoyable and contagious than laughs while inhaling. 

It was the older infants in the sample – the ones nearer the 18-month mark – who exhaled more as they laughed. 

This suggests that during this key period of development – between three and 18 months old – infants learn to exhale when they laugh. 

CNN’s Professor Kret said that exhaling causes laughter to be more loud, making it easier for babies to express their joy and desire to play. 

She said that babies learn how to communicate with their parents through laughter as they get older. 

Perhaps babies subconsciously modify their laughs to attract the best response from their parents. 

Parents observe that the baby’s parents are actively seeking to understand. 

A further experiment was conducted in which 102 people were asked how they would rate clips of adults laughing and babies laughing without having to focus on their breathing.

Researchers discovered that they prefer singing adult-style, sing-song laughs to those who are not conscious of this style.

“This study was initiated when Dr Sauter saw a clip of a friend’s child laughing, and she thought it sounded like a chimpanzee.”

“Of course, she did not say that to her mother!” We were able to see the similarity and decided that parents may want to pay closer attention.

“It only shows that our behavioral repertoire is old, and was inherited from the common ancestral we share with the other apes.”     

The paper, entitled “The ontogeny in human laughter”, was published in Biology Letters.