Robert Provine, Psychology, in Real Simple

Psychology Professor Robert Provine appeared in the July 2014 edition of Real Simple magazine in an article about the evolution and science of laughter. The magazine published a lengthy article in the print edition and also posted a version of the article on its website.

Robert Provine

In the print version, Provine said that more research is needed, but it’s probable that those who laugh easily and often are happier than those who don’t. Laughter is “the sound of play,” he said. “So our brain automatically associates it with carefree interactions with friends, family and lovers.”

The article also cites one of Provine’s earliest research experiments in which he found that just listening to recorded laughter can often evoke fits of giggles. According to his research, you’re 30 times more likely to laugh when someone else is around than when you’re by yourself. “It’s highly contagious,” he said.

To read the online version of the article titled, “13 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Laughing,” click here.

Robert Provine, Psychology, on National Geographic Video

A new National Geographic video examines what laughter can do for human health. Psychology Professor Robert Provine appears in the video and provides insight on the origins of laughter, saying it begins at three to four months of age and is one of the most important forms of early communication between babies and mothers.

“It’s a kind of instinctive language that exists before we learn to talk. Laughter, like speech, evolved to change the behavior of other individuals,” Provine said.

“Does [laughter] have to have other purposes? It probably does, but we’re just now starting to tease out what those differences are,” he added. “Did the benefits of laughter come from the act of laughing or is it the social context, spending time with friends, family, and lovers? All of these are very difficult scientific issues that haven’t been teased out. But laughter clearly feels good when we do it. Isn’t that enough?”

You can find the video on National Geographic’s website here.

Robert Provine, Psychology, on The Atlantic Video and ABC Australia Radio

Robert Provine“We have the illusion that laughter is a choice, that we speak laughter as we speak any other word. But we don’t speak hah-hah when we laugh. It’s an involuntary action,” says Psychology Professor Robert Provine in a compelling new video exploring why humans laugh. The video is part of The Atlantic Video web series.

Provine narrates the video and it’s broken into parts including segments on the anatomy of laughter and the danger of laughter. During one portion of the video, Provine visits The Commons at UMBC and conducts an experiment simply by sitting down and observing the people around him.

“Breakthroughs in science come from studying things that are simple and easily described. I call it sidewalk neuroscience,” says Provine. In the video, he listens to two people laughing nearby and highlights that social laughter is caused by relationships, not jokes.

Provine has been studying the social and neurological roots of laughter for 20 years and his latest book, Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond (2012), is an exploration of neglected human instincts.

To watch the complete video titled, “Why We Laugh,” click here 

Provine also participated in a recent discussion about laughter on ABC Australia Radio’s “Life Matters” program. To listen to the complete interview, click here.

Students Share Stories: Navigating College with Mental Health Challenges Recap

On Tuesday, May 6, as part of an event during the Children’s Mental Health Matters Campaign, the UMBC Department of Psychology’s YouthFIRST team, led by Associate Professor Jason Schiffman and YouthFIRST Anti-Stigma Division Director Danielle Denenny; Taking Flight and the Maryland Coalition of Families for Children’s Mental Health; the Mental Health Association of Maryland; and the UMBC Counseling Center hosted a panel discussion entitled, “Students Share Stories: Navigating College with Mental Health Challenges.”

Speaking to an audience of nearly 100 people, three UMBC student panelists shared their personal journeys through illness and recovery and discussed issues of stigma and mental health. Imparted were stories of isolation, despair, challenges, and fear; as well as stories of growth, meaning, perseverance, inspiration, friendship and love.

The messages of both pain and hope challenged the audience to understand new perspectives and began a dialog in the service of breaking down barriers and promoting inclusivity. The audience expressed gratitude for the panelists’ openness and asked questions that inspired ideas and created deep personal connections.

Flashmob1Earlier in the day, in an attempt to promote the panel event and to bring greater awareness to mental health in an uplifting way, Dr. Schiffman, Elaine O’Heir, Nicole Mooney and the entire YouthFIRST team organized a flashmob on campus in front of the Math/Psychology building. Led by Dr. Schiffman’s seven and eight-year-olds, Chloe and Jacob, more than 200 people united to celebrate mental health through dance. The video can be found here.

“Students Share Stories: Navigating College with Mental Health Challenges” (5/6)

psychology eventOn Tuesday, May 6,  the Children’s Mental Health Matters! Campaign, Taking Flight, UMBC YouthFIRST team and UMBC Counseling Center are hosting a panel discussion titled, “Students Share Stories: Navigating College with Mental Health Challenges.” The panel takes place from 3:00-5:30 p.m. in the Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery.

The student panelists will share their personal journeys through illness and recovery and discuss issues of stigma and mental health advocacy. All are welcome and encouraged to participate in the Q&A and discussion. Doors open at 2:40 p.m. and seats are first-come, first-served. Light refreshments will be served.

Also, a flashmob will be held at noon outside the UMBC University Center (near Starbucks). This event takes place during Mental Health Awareness Week and is jointly hosted with support from UMBC’s Department of Psychology. For more information on the event or on becoming a speaker, email

Robert Provine, Psychology, in The New Yorker

An article published April 15 in The New Yorker explores the surprising science behind yawning and what makes it so unique. Psychology Professor Robert Provine, author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond, was interviewed for the article and commented on his research studying the concept.

Robert Provine

“Yawning may have the dubious distinction of being the least understood, common human behavior,” Provine observed. The article discusses Provine’s studies that explored contagious yawning, one of which found eighty-eight per cent of people who were instructed to think of yawns yawned themselves within thirty minutes. It also examines how the contagious nature of yawning may be highlighted by something very different than empathy, but rather as a form of communication.

“We’re getting insight into the human herd: yawning as a primal form of sociality,” Provine said. “It’s often said that behavior doesn’t leave fossils,” he added. “But, with yawning, you are looking at a behavioral fossil. You’re getting an insight into how all of behavior once was.”

To read the full article in The New Yorker, click here.

Robert Provine, Psychology, in Slate

Robert ProvineAn article published March 25 in the online magazine Slate examines the factors that cause humans to laugh. The story cites the work and research of Psychology Professor Robert Provine that helps explain why humans laugh.

“For his book, Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, Provine engaged in what he called ‘sidewalk neuroscience,’ tracking and observing real-world laughter,” the article states.

The authors write that Provine’s research helps illustrate the reasons human laugh usually aren’t in response to something that is humorous.

“Provine discovered that the laughter of our everyday lives isn’t for the most part in response to anything resembling jokes,” the authors note. “Instead, most of it occurs in conversations that, out of context, don’t seem funny at all. Provine’s discoveries suggest that laughter is inherently social, that at its core it’s a form of communication and not just a byproduct of finding something funny.”

To read the full article in Slate, click here. Provine was also interviewed about the same topic on “The Arlene Bynon Show” on Sirius XM radio. Additional coverage can be found on by clicking here.

Jason Schiffman, Psychology, in The Baltimore Sun

Jason SchiffmanJason Schiffman, an associate professor of psychology, and his team of researchers are leading a study this spring to increase awareness of mental illness and break down the stigma that often prevents those with symptoms from getting the help they need. Their work was featured in an article published March 21 in The Baltimore Sun.

“Many of the folks who need help get lost somehow,” Schiffman said. “”There are so many kids and young adults who slip through the cracks.”

The article details the work behind the study, which will have participants listen to a tape that simulates the voices that those with psychosis hear as they go about their routines, and watch a video in which UMBC students talk about their personal experiences with mental illness.

The research study is part of the overall work Schiffman and his team are doing as part of the Center for Excellence on Early Intervention for Serious Mental Illness, a collaborative effort among the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the university’s Medical Center and UMBC to identify and treat mental illness in young people.

Danielle Denenny and Eryn Bentley, two graduate students working as part of Schiffman’s research team, are also quoted in The Baltimore Sun article titled, “UMBC study among efforts to increase awareness of mental illness.” To read the full story, click here.

Robert Provine, Psychology, on BBC News Website

A new Duke University study finds that contagious yawning is linked more closely to a person’s age than their ability to empathize, and it shows a stronger link to age than tiredness or energy levels.

Robert Provine

Psychology Professor Robert Provine was interviewed for a BBC News article about the study and said it was “unique” because it marked the first time a link between ageing and contagious yawning had been demonstrated.

The scientific study of contagious behavior, including yawning and laughing, was conducted in Provine’s lab at UMBC and the new Duke study involved application of his previous methods for examining contagious yawning.

Provine said the findings would “help to get down to the neurological nitty-gritty of contagious behaviors” and mental health disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, adding, “contagious acts such as yawning and laughing remind us that we are often mindless beasts of the herd, not rational beings in full conscious control of our behavior.”

To read the full article on the BBC News website, click here.

UMBC Psychology Research Cited in TES Magazine

A study conducted by researchers at UMBC and the University of Maryland, College Park was featured in a recent Times Educational Supplement article in TES Magazine. The article, titled “To help the little darlings out, let their parents in,” focuses on the study which found that two-thirds of parents think their children are brighter and higher-achieving than their classmates.

The research was conducted by Susan Sonnenschein, an associate professor of psychology, Shari Metzger, a graduate student in the Applied Developmental Psychology program and Laura Stapleton, an associate professor of measurement, statistics and evaluation at the University of Maryland, College Park.

The researchers found that parents who work as classroom assistants develop more of a realistic understanding of their children’s abilities and are able to offer them the specific help they need.

“Ensuring that parents are knowledgeable about their children’s academic skills is important if parents are to effectively assist their children at home with schoolwork,” the researchers said in the report. “Parents who are more knowledgeable about their children’s abilities interact more sensitively with their children, and provide more appropriate learning environments.”

The paper was published in the most recent edition of The Journal of Educational Research. You can read the full article in TES Magazine here.