From Ice Age to Madagascar: Appreciation of slapstick humor in children with Asperger's syndrome

Elisabeth M. Weiss 1 , Bianca C. Gschaidbauer 2 , Andrea C. Samson 3 , Krista Steinbäcker 2 , Andreas Fink 1  and Ilona Papousek 4
  • 1 Department of Psychology, Biological Psychology Unit, Karl-Franzens University of Graz, Austria
  • 2 Libelle Centre for Autism, Graz, Austria
  • 3 Department of Psychology, Stanford University, CA, USA
  • 4 Karl-Franzens University of Graz, Department of Psychology, Biological Psychology Unit, Univ.-Platz 2, A-8010 Graz, Austria


The aim of the present study was to examine whether children with Asperger's syndrome differ from typically developing children in the appreciation of and behavioral responses to simple slapstick type humor, in which cognitive requirements that are commonly impaired in autism spectrum disorders are reduced to a minimum. Short slapstick scenes and matched non-humorous control scenes were extracted from popular movies to produce an appropriate humor assessment material. Twenty-four boys with Asperger's syndrome (5 to 14 years) and 24 age-matched typically developed controls were tested. The results indicated that children with Asperger's syndrome enjoy humorous material as much as healthy children do, if the humor elements are simple and the incongruence can be perceived independently from theory of mind requirements, inferential demands, or language abilities. However, similar funniness ratings and behavioral expressions of mirth to the humorous scenes, but relatively higher values in response to the non-humorous scenes, suggested that the autistic children did not discriminate non-humorous from humorous stimuli as sensitively as the typically developing children did. Moreover, in autistic children, the outwards displays of emotion did not match their reports of subjective amusement. This dissociation may relate to the social interaction and communication difficulties in autism spectrum disorders.

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HUMOR, the official publication of the International Society for Humor Studies (ISHS), was established over 25 years ago as an international interdisciplinary forum for the publication of high-quality research papers on humor as an important and universal human faculty. The journal publishes original contributions in areas such as interdisciplinary humor research, humor theory, and humor research methodologies.