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How to Measure Your Kid’s Sense of Humor

Use science to figure out if your kids are really as funny as you think they are.

Humor sure seems to be subjective. It’s hard to know whether your kid is objectively funny—or, indeed, whether anyone or anything is objectively funny. Fortunately, there are a few scientists out there who have dedicated their careers to quantifying humor. Yes, it’s possible.

Meet The “Multidimensional Sense Of Humor Scale”

The “Multidimensional Sense of Humor Scale” was designed in the early 1990s to objectively measure sense of humor. The original scale featured 24 questions that explore what its creators referred to as the “four dimensions of humor”—humor creation,  humor as a coping mechanism, appreciation of humor, and attitudes toward humor. The test, initially designed for adults, was later amended by researcher Jacqueline Dowling to a 15-point survey that was better-suited for children (who have, presumably, absorbed enough Spongebob to appreciate real comedy).

Dowling’s modified humor scale is most commonly used by nurses and counselors who are helping kids deal with childhood stress. In such settings, it’s useful to know ahead of time whether your patient has a healthy sense of humor. But there’s no reason why you cannot commandeer the sacred humor scale for more irreverent purposes. So if you want to try it out at home, ask your supposedly good-humored child to respond to the survey, below. It won’t exactly tell you why your kid thinks three-hour long farting videos are funny, but it will give you a head start when it comes to figuring out whether they’re developing a healthy appreciation of humor (not to mention basic social graces).

Try It At Home: Here’s The Humor Scale For Kids

Your child should respond to each question with “always”, “sometimes”, or “never”.

  1. I can make other people laugh
  2. My jokes and funny stories make others laugh
  3. People tell me that I say funny things
  4. I use jokes and funny stories to make my friends laugh
  5. I can make people laugh with the things I say
  6. I make up jokes or funny stories
  7. I like a good joke
  8. Jokes and funny stories are a good way to face tough times
  9. Jokes and funny stories help to relax me
  10. I like people who tell jokes
  11. Using jokes and funny stories to get through tough times is a good way to go through life
  12. Jokes and funny stories help me get through tough times
  13. I can make problems better by saying something funny
  14. It bothers me when people tell jokes
  15. I like people who make me laugh

Why The Humor Scale Works, And What It All Means

Humor, in terms of child development, isn’t just a matter of becoming the class clown. Studies suggest that kids who are funny have lower resting heart rates and are less susceptible to illness. From a psychological perspective, a sense of humor can help children cope with stress, make friends, and comprehend this strange and confusing world. So this scale in fact serves a dual purpose: not only does it measure just how funny your kid is, but the measurements can also tell you about your kid’s overall mental health, and predict his or her resilience in the face of stressful situations. If your child answered “never” to most of the above questions, that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem—but it should start a discussion about healthy coping mechanisms.

Kids who score poorly on the humor scale could be taking themselves too seriously (a dangerous trait in a child who has barely mastered the potty) and could also be taking in the world at just the surface level, rather than diving into the complexities and inevitable hilarity of life. Lack of humor could also be a sign of low self-esteem. That’s not to say that an unfunny kid is emotionally stunted. They may have other ways of coping. But having a funny kid is definitely a good thing. And if your kid is having issues, sit down and talk with them. The world is a hilarious place. Tell them about it.