Emotions and television

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International Study: Television - Sometimes Triggers Laughter, Sometimes Triggers Nightmares (2013/2014)

In a national and international study, 510 eight to twelve year-olds in Germany, Brazil, Canada, New Zealand and Uganda were interviewed, by trained interviewers, about their emotional experiences when watching television. The children were asked to talk about television experiences which had really made them laugh, and about an experience which had led to a nightmare, and to draw pictures of these.

Laughing in front of the television
Results: In terms of the analysis, it is possible to identify numerous typical humorous elements in children’s television. Children may find any of these funny. Ultimately, though, it depends on the context, how significant this is for the children, and to what extent it allows them to feel good. From this perspective it is also possible to interpret the scenes drawn and described by the 510 children, and to identify what really makes children laugh when watching television.
Many of the scenes mentioned by the children come from animation programmes such as SpongeBob SquarePants, Tom and Jerry or Family Guy, but comedy formats such as iCarly or The Big Bang Theory are also mentioned frequently. In addition, children mention various variants of Candid Camera and prank shows. The scenes come from analogue/digital television, but various videos also come from the internet – mainly from the Youtube platform. Despite all the differences in genres, programmes and ways of access, some typical basic paradigms can be identified in these scenes. Some of those most frequently mentioned are:    

  • when aspects of the familiar world are aesthetically exceeded,
  • when characters have slapstick moments or minor accidents,
  • when anticipation is undermined,
  • when language and meaning are played with,
  • when little heroes win through,
  • when justice is done.

Overall, there are mainly similarities in terms of what children from different countries find particularly funny. The differences actually lie in the programmes mentioned, and in this sense they are primarily dependent on the selection of programmes on offer.  

Götz, Maya; Berg, Maria: So, what's so funny about that?". Humour in children's TV. TelevIZIon, 27/2014/E, 30-33