When parents use sarcasm to playfully tease their young children, do the kids see the humour?
Not likely, according to a Canadian researcher who has completed a study showing that children need to be 10 or older before fully grasping the concept that sarcasm can be funny.
The results have implications for everything from the content of children's television programming to interpreting bullying behavior, University of Calgary psychologist Penny Pexman said.
"Our study suggests that five-year-olds are beginning to understand the simplest form of sarcasm and are getting better at it, but still by the age of eight they really don't find it funny, so there's still a dissociation there," said Pexman, who has been studying sarcasm for the past six years. "They can appreciate that the person means the opposite of what they're saying, but they don't find it humourous."
In addition, children under the age of about 10 almost always interpreted a sarcastic remark as serious, even when it was intended to be humourous.
It is still not completely clear what determines how children comprehend sarcasm, but Pexman said factors could include the amount used at home, their social milieu and the types of television shows they watch.
In fact, since adults write kids' television programmes, much of the humour may be lost on the intended audience, she said.