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Peller, L.E. (1956). Children's Humor. A Psychological Analysis: By Martha Wolfenstein. Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1954. 224 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 25:106-108.

(1956). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 25:106-108

Children's Humor. A Psychological Analysis: By Martha Wolfenstein. Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1954. 224 pp.

Review by:
Lili E. Peller

In order to trace the development of children's humor the author interviewed and observed children aged from four to twelve. She also collected observations of younger and older children, several of whom were in therapy. The children represent a rather homogeneous group.

Children use funny stories and jokes to extract pleasure from situations threatening them with anxiety, guilt, or disappointment. Anal, sexual, or aggressive impulses may thus attain a brief socially sanctioned gratification. Humor also serves to express children's rebellion against moral or intellectual authority, to cover secrets, and to strengthen defenses.

There are radical differences between the things that appear funny to the three-year old, the seven-year old, and the twelve-year old. The essential characteristics of each age, as well as the different flavors of their stories and replies, are vividly exemplified by numerous anecdotes. This reviewer, however, regrets that nothing is said of differences in the kind of humor that appeals most to children of different sexes.

As a rule, a child tells jokes related to its most pressing problems of the moment. The youngest children tell rambling funny stories, while children in latency seem to prefer the safety of a ready-made joke. A young child is aware only of the manifest content of a joke while the formal elements, the façade of the joke, its verbal economy and abrupt ending are perceived by older children, but only when its latent content does not arouse too intense emotions.

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