Do the wrong thing: How toddlers tell a joke from a mistake

Elena Hoicka, Merideth Gattis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

55 Citations (Scopus)


We investigated whether 19–36-month-olds (1) differentiate mistakes from jokes, and (2) understand humorous intentions. The experimenter demonstrated unambiguous jokes accompanied by laughter, unambiguous mistakes accompanied by the experimenter saying, “Woops!”, and ambiguous actions that could either be a mistake or a joke, accompanied by either laughter or, “Woops!” Toddlers were asked to try. Nineteen- to 36-month-olds differentiated jokes and mistakes by copying unambiguous jokes and correcting unambiguous mistakes. Only 25–36-month-olds differentiated mistakes and humorous intentions by copying ambiguous actions marked by laughter, and correcting those marked by, “Woops!” Understanding humorous intentions precedes understanding intentions behind pretense, lying, and false beliefs, thus may be a first step in understanding that others can intend to do the wrong thing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)180-190
JournalCognitive Development
Publication statusPublished - 2008

Structured keywords

  • SoE Centre for Psychological Approaches for Studying Education


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