A contemplative investigation into humour development, sense of humour and a few mechanisms underlying humour

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Humour indicates something comic, absurd or contradictory that provides pleasure. An individual's sense of humour indicates personal characteristics of cognitive and emotional behaviour, as well as social components. An individual's sense of humour also contributes to a healthy outlook and world view as a healthy sense of humour can unlock emotional, intellectual and normative worlds.

In attempts to determine a sense of humour, several measuring scales have been developed that are focused largely on adults. However, measuring scales have also been developed for the determination of children's sense of humour based on adult measurement scales. Some of these measuring scales are set out in this article as examples. Moreover, a few underlying mechanisms of humour (superiority, incongruity, relief and social interaction), as well as the relevant theories thereof, are reviewed in this article. An understanding of the mechanisms underlying humour is essential in determining a sense of humour.

Theorists who investigate superiority as a humorous phenomenon tend to focus on the general idea that one person's malicious pleasure experienced on account of another's misfortune (so-called schadenfreude) points to a feeling of superiority. Subsequently, incongruity theories refer to the purpose of humour, although a variety of humans are identified by the way in which people respond to a supposed incongruity. Relief theories propagate that humour relieves tension or anxiety, as well as the essential structures and psychological processes that cause and influence humour. Finally, social interaction through humorous play is studied as a means of building and maintaining relationships.

Most theories about humour are a mixture of theories, and many contemporary researchers believe that humour in its totality is a phenomenon that cannot be contained in a single integrated theory (Kirkmann 2006). Humour is intertwined in the complementary processes of cognitive and social development.

Children's sense of humour can be determined by their stages of humour development based on the complementary processes of cognitive, linguistic and social development. Children's language development and cognitive abilities are also associated with their ability to understand and appreciate humour. McGhee (1979) proposes that humour develops in stages consistent with cognitive development. McGhee's proposed stages of humour development can be summarised as:

1–2 years: Stage 1 – conduct disharmonious behaviours against the object; and Stage 2 – name the disharmony between the object and the event
3–6 years: Stage 3 – disharmony of concept 
7–11 years: Stage 4 – discovering humour's multiple meanings.

As discussed in this article, the development of children's cognitive abilities is associated with their ability to understand and appreciate humour. It was found that early verbal humour is dependent on the environment that children grow up in. Understanding the developmental stages of humour can serve as an instrument for facilitating communication for role players such as therapists, teachers and parents. This knowledge can be used more effectively in therapeutic contexts. Role players can make a child aware of humour, consequently developing their reading and life skills.

One's perception of humour enables one to experience joy, even when a difficult situation confronts you. Anxiety is a negative condition in which we experience tension or fatigue; these unpleasant emotions can sometimes lead to a feeling of helplessness or invalidity. However, when one laughs or experiences joy, it is difficult to feel fearful, angry, depressed, guilty or angry.

This study consistently refers to the various roles of humour in society. The development of a mood sentence unlocks emotional, intellectual and normative worlds and can contribute to the development of a healthy life and worldview. Humour and culture are inseparable because humour is a mirror of the culture in which it is produced. It is for this reason that humour is often studied for the entertainment it provides, as well as for its healing value. Verster (2003:26) believes that culture has an undeniable influence on humour and this influence relates to knowledge, that is, access to information. The culture of a particular group of people, as well as the humour of such a group, as perceptible at that particular time, is spread by, for example, the media.

Humour plays a further role in stimulating creativity. According to Van Niekerk and Van der Westhuizen (2004:153), laughing is "liberating in respect of many prohibited things and constraints imposed on the child in daily life". Through humour, a child can face reality more creatively and resolutely.

This article covers wide-ranging secondary sources which were produced over a considerable period. The information gathered resulted in further research on the types and categories of humour in children's literature, as well as the value of humour in children's literature. Reading children's literature is one of the ways in which children can be exposed to humour. Adults can make a child aware of humour in children's stories, thereby developing children's and learners' reading and life skills and expanding their horizons (Van Niekerk and Van der Westhuizen 2004:152).

Knowledge of the different stages of the development of children's sense of humour offers role players a tool that can be used to choose books for children. Another suggested criterion is knowledge of the types of humour present in children's literature, as will be explained in subsequent research. The use of humour in children's literature is discussed in this article based on the hypothesis, as discussed in a previous article (Lessing-Venter and Snyman 2017), that reading involvement and reading motivation can be encouraged by the reading pleasure that humour can provide in children's literature.

This article forms part of a study on humour as motivation for the reluctant reader. It follows on a previous article on children's reading motivation and how it can be encouraged through humour. The previous article (Lessing-Venter and Snyman 2017) discussed the extrinsic and intrinsic ways in which children are taught or motivated to read. The article concluded with the suggestion that humour is a possible key to reading pleasure, reading motivation, reading interest and ultimately reading promotion. The current article is contemplative by nature and selected aspects in the development of children's sense of humour are discussed.

This research contributes to the corpus of scientific knowledge on humour studies. As discussed in this article, the role of humour in children's literature remains controversial. In an attempt to further explain the role of humour in children's literature, for the sake of the originality of a glimpse of underlying issues as well as the materiality of a contribution to the subject, the research methods of qualitative as well as quantitative content analysis, discourse analysis and humour analysis were used in a subsequent study of 15 children's books written by Jaco Jacobs.

Keywords: children's literature; cognitive development; humour; humour development; reading motivation; reading promotion; sense of humour

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: ’n Beskouende ondersoek van humorontwikkeling, humorsin en enkele meganismes onderliggend aan humor

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