If you’re a funny adult, chances are good you were a funny kid, too. New research shows a child’s sense of humor starts developing early — often as young as 6 years old.
In the study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers analyzed brain scans of 15 children between 6 and 12 years old while they watched short video clips that had been deemed funny, positive, or neutral. Brain scans showed the funny videos activated two regions of the brain that are also activated when adults find something amusing.
And, like grown-ups, the kids’ reward-processing areas of the brain were also activated while watching funny videos, more so in younger children than in older ones. The reward-processing regions lit up when participants viewed the positive videos too, but those clips didn’t activate the brain areas that process incongruity — something the research team says confirms the fact that surprise is a key element of humor for both children and adults.
“Our new finding suggests that the network that responds to humorous stimuli in adults is already present in kids but is not as well-developed,” researcher Allan Reiss, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a news release.
“Humor is a very important component of emotional health, maintaining relationships, developing [mental] function, and perhaps even medical health,” Reiss continued. “In particular, we think a balanced and consistent sense of humor may help children negotiate the difficult period of pre-adolescence and adolescence.”