Robert Provine, Psychology, in BBC Future

As Psychology Professor Robert Provine puts it, “yawning may have the dubious distinction of being the least understood, common human behavior.” A recent in depth story published in BBC Future attempts to answer the baffling question of why we yawn, and Provine, one of the leading experts in the field and author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond, is quoted extensively in the story.

Robert Provine

In the article, Provine discusses how contagious yawning is: “Around 50% of people who observe a yawn will yawn in response,” Provine said. “It is so contagious that anything associated with it will trigger one…seeing or hearing another person, or even reading about yawning.” He also discussed how audiences frequently yawn as he is giving presentations: “It makes a very effective lecture,” he said. “You talk and then the audience starts yawning. And then you can ask people to experiment on their yawns – like closing the lips, or inhaling through clenched teeth, or trying to yawn with the nose pinched closed.”

To read the full article in BBC Future titled, “One of science’s most baffling questions? Why we yawn,” click here.

Robert Provine, Psychology, in New York Magazine

Can just talking and reading about bedbugs make you feel itchy? That’s a question New York Magazine set out to find the answer to in a recent post on its “Science of Us” blog. The author asked Psychology Professor Robert Provine the question and this was his response:

Robert ProvineItching and scratching, like yawning, laughing, coughing, and vomiting, is contagious. Simply seeing someone scratching is enough to trigger your own bout of clawing, in a vain effort to rid yourself of pests, real or imagined. You don’t need to actually be bitten by a bedbug, louse, or flea — simply seeing their image, thinking about them, or reading about them — as you are doing now — may trigger a seesaw bout of itching (the stimulus), and scratching (the response).

This hair-trigger, contagiousness and hyper sensitivity to itchy stimuli makes sense. Your neighbor’s pest may jump ship and infect you. Better start scratching, just in case. Unfortunately, scratching causes more itching, locking you into an escalating cycle of itch and scratch.

Provine is author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccuping, and Beyond. To read the full blog post in New York Magazine, click here 

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