Apr 20 2005
Children say the funniest things, but what makes them laugh? Do German and Israeli kids share the same sense of humour - or is the Simpsons the universal language of laughter?
That is the puzzle that a University of Ulster researcher is hoping to unravel as part of a five-nation probe into what makes children laugh.
Professor Máire Messenger-Davies, who is based at the University’s Coleraine campus, will join researchers from Germany, Israel, South Africa and the US in the research project funded by IZI, the International Institute for the Study of Youth and Media in Munich.
She said: "The purpose is to determine what children laugh at and whether there are national or cultural differences that influence their sense of humour."
Initially the researchers are compiling samples of humorous material - mainly television programmes, both animated and live, from each of the countries under the microscope. These will be shown to audiences of 8-12 year olds in selected schools in each country and specialists from IZI will measure the responses using a "Fun-o-Meter" - a device to gauge the giggle quotient.
Afterwards, the children will be invited to discuss their reactions to the viewing material and the results will be analysed.
Professor Messenger-Davies said: "English language programmes are widely seen around the world but children in the UK, Ireland and the US are seldom exposed to programmes from countries like Germany, Israel or South Africa.
"We know that children like verbal humour, silly puns and such like. But they also get a laugh from action material such as people falling over. We want to see what humour crosses national boundaries and what is specific to certain countries or cultures. We will also be exploring if there is a difference in the humour appreciated by boys and girls.
"Programmes like the Simpsons are shown throughout the world and this study will demonstrate if that particular brand of humour is universally appreciated."
The project runs for a year and as well as compiling material, the researchers are also identifying schools which will be the test bed for the humour probe.