Researchers looked at the findings from two studies, published in the journal of Cognitive Science, in order to draw their conclusions. Both studies involved observing parents using their actions to display scenarios where they were joking and pretending with their child, but in one, the children who were between 16 and 20 months old; in the other, the children were 20 to 24 months old. In the study with older children, parents also used language to express the different scenarios.
Researchers discovered that children as young as 16 months are able to differentiate between parents' jokes and when they are pretending based on their explicit cues.
Related: The Benefits of Playtime for Babies
But what really is the difference between joking and pretending? According to the study's press release, parents may have exclaimed "That's not really a hat!" while placing a toy chicken on their head. Conversely, they may play on imagination by pretending a block is a horse and making it gallop across the floor.
Additionally, it was observed that parents showed greater amounts of disbelief when joking, and in turn, children displayed less belief (through actions if they were younger, and verbally if they were older).
"Knowing how to joke is good for maintaining relationships, thinking outside the box, and enjoying life," stated Elena Hoicka, M.D. from the University's Department of Psychology. "Pretending helps children to practice new skills and learn new information."
Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for Parents.com who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. Follow her on Twitter:@CAITYstjohn