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Children's sense of humour: an international comparison (2005)

Humour plays a central role in child television programmes and children's choice of programmes. In 2002/2003, the IZI conducted a survey on children's and pre-teens' sense of humour. Children and pre-teens in Germany were surveyed and observed in a number of ways in order to investigate the question of what they find funny in everyday life and television. An Israeli study provided additional perspectives on children's sense of humour. The study produced very concrete findings on the subject of "What makes children laugh?". What emerges very clearly is that children have a different sense of humour to adults and that child-TV programme editors also often have incorrect perceptions of what children actually find funny.

The extent to which these findings apply internationally, however, remains unanswered. Do children in Israel, South Africa, Ireland, the USA and Germany find the same things funny on TV or are there significant cultural differences?

This is the starting point for the co-operative project "Children's sense of humour: an international comparison ", designed to investigate quantitatively and qualitatively what children find funny in selected child-TV material.

The aim of the study is to obtain an international comparison of elementary-school pupils' assessment of TV humour. In order to limit the possible comic moments, the study will focus on humour that

  1. involves violence (linguistic and physical/slapstick)
  2. and the gender theme (e.g. gender crossing, disparaging humour)
  3. race/culture/ethnicity.

These categories will be circumscribed and specified in a preceding content analysis (literature research).

Groups of 7 to 12 elementary-school pupils (aged 8 to 9 years) will watch selected programme segments. The latter will be specifically humour-oriented and have its own self-contained plot. Each country taking part in the study will compile programme segments running for 15 min. (± 4 min.) from locally produced programmes and international child-TV productions currently shown in that country. The segments will have subtitles or be in the national language, depending on what is customary in the country concerned.

The children will watch one 15-minute block at a time. During viewing, they will use a Fun-O-Meter, i.e. a joystick hooked up to a laptop and capable of being moved to and from between a frowney and a smiley to indicate scenes that they find funny. The data obtained in this way will be statistically edited and provide indications of similarities and differences in assessment of humorous moments in TV programmes. In order to further obtain content-related reasons for assessments from the children themselves, an approx. 15-minute group discussion will take place after each block shown.

The study will be conducted together with 4 partners. The respective national samples are to consist of at least 40 girls and 40 boys. Apart from the 'gender' variable, a cultural dimension will be included in each country - in Israel, for example, Jewish and Arab children, in South Africa, for example, white and coloured children.

Study partners
The study will be conducted in Germany under the supervision of Dr. Maya Götz and Ralf Schauer, the latter being also responsible for project co-ordination as well as collection and evaluation of the Fun-O-Meter results.

In Israel, the study will be conducted under the supervision of Prof. Dafna Lemish (Tel Aviv University).

In the USA, Dr. Shalom M. Fisch (MediaKidz Research and Consulting) and Dr. Bruce Homer (New York University) will be responsible for collection and evaluation.

In Ireland/UK, the study will be conducted under the supervision of Prof. Màire Messenger-Davies (University of Ulster).

In South Africa, data collection will take place under the supervision of Firdoze Bulbulia from the CBFA (Children & Broadcasting Foundation for Africa).

The results were presented on the occasion of the Prix Jeunesse 2006 in Munich and were published in TELEVIZION 19/2006/E.