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.

Curious Behavior: A Celebration of Undergraduate Research at UMBC (3/12)

The Fifth Annual Distinguished Lecture in Psychology takes place Wednesday, March 12 at 7 p.m. in the Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery. Psychology Professor Robert Provine presents “Curious Behavior: A Celebration of Undergraduate Research at UMBC.” The event is sponsored by the psychology department and the Social Sciences Forum and is co-sponsored by the Dresher Center for the Humanities.

Robert Provine

Robert Provine’s latest book, Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond, has received rave reviews. It won the PROSE Award 2012 as the best book in biomedicine and neuroscience and was selected as a Library Journal Best Book of the Year. Dr. Provine will reflect on his 39-year career at UMBC and discuss how undergraduate research can change the way we look at human behavior and solve ancient problems.

Robert R. Provine, a neuroscientist and professor of Psychology at UMBC, studies the development and evolution of the nervous system and behavior, including human social behavior. His widely cited book Laughter: A Scientific Investigation was selected as one of The 25 Books to Remember from 2000 by the New York Public Library, and his articles are reprinted in The Best American Science Writing 2006 and The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2006. His most recent book is Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond (2012), an exploration of neglected human instincts. Provine’s research and writing are widely covered in the broadcast news, news magazines, and morning shows, including Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Radio Lab, CBS 20/20, CBS Sunday Morning, Scientific American Frontiers, ABC World News Tonight, and Good Morning America, and print media, including The New York Times, Time magazine, Discover, Scientific American, Nature, New Scientist, and The Times (London). He advocates “small science” and “sidewalk neuroscience,” approaches to serious problems that require minimal resources and can be conducted by anyone. Provine is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association for Psychological Science.

Admission is free.

Anne Brodsky, Psychology, Receives SCRA Award for Distinguished Contributions to Theory and Research in Community Psychology

Anne Brodsky, psychology professor and associate dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, has received the 2014 SCRA Award for Distinguished Contributions to Theory and Research in Community Psychology. The award was announced by American Psychological Association (APA) Division 27. The announcement from the Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) states:

Anne Brodsky

Dr. Brodsky’s contributions cover various topics of central importance to community psychology. The award refers to both theory and research and she has significant contributions in both areas (theory- resilience, PSOC; research – qualitative methods). Her contributions regarding research relate not only to engaging in excellent research but in writing about methodology itself and contributing to the development of qualitative methodology. Her work has substantially enhanced our understanding of women’s engagement in multiple roles (i.e., parent, change agent) and the ways in which sense of community and empowerment are intertwined. 

She has also been successful in “giving psychology away” and in facilitating the development of others who can contribute to the discipline.  Dr. Brodsky’s work embodies community psychology values and concepts – largely on processes that support community-based/social action, empowerment, and community-level self-determination.

Carlo DiClemente, Psychology, on New Books Network

New Books Network recently interviewed Carlo DiClemente, presidential research professor and professor of psychology, about his co-authored book Substance Abuse Treatment and the Stages of Change: Selecting and Planning Interventions (Guilford Press, 2013).

Carlo DiClemente

The network, a consortium of author-interview podcasts designed to enhance public conversation on given topics, interviewed DiClemente as part of its “New Books in Alcohol, Drugs and Intoxicants” series.

In a comprehensive interview, DiClemente discussed the stages of change model as it relates to substance abuse and drug addiction treatment, as well the need for careful consideration of stage status and the complexities surrounding substance abuse.

“The message in the book is tailor your treatments to your clients, to the client’s motivation, to the client’s characteristics, to the client’s context, how they live and where they live, and if you’re doing that, then you are at least helping them engage in this process of change,” DiClemente said.

You can listen to the full interview on the New Books Network website here.

Remembering Aron Siegman, Professor Emeritus and Former Chair of the Department of Psychology

FROM: Christopher Murphy, Professor and Chair, Department of Psychology

Aron Siegman, Professor Emeritus of Psychology, passed away in late January. After earning his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1957, Aron served on the faculty at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat-Gan Israel and then as a Research Associate and Research Professor of Medical Psychology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.  Aron joined the faculty of UMBC in 1969, before Psychology was an official department.  From 1970 to 1978 he served as discipline coordinator and then Department Chair. Aron was instrumental in launching graduate programs in the Department, and in recruiting many outstanding colleagues to UMBC.  Aron retired in 2001 with his wife Sarah to their home in Beit Shemesh, Israel.

An ordained rabbi and Talmudic scholar, Aron was a highly productive contributor to Psychology. His research interests spanned broad areas of personality, clinical, and health psychology. Among his many early- and mid-career contributions include studies on perceptual defense, cultural aspects of personality, religion and psychodynamics, therapeutic interactions, verbal fluency, and paralinguistic features of communication, During the later years of his research career, Aron made important and sustained contributions to our understanding of the complex influences of anger, antagonism, and hostility on cardiovascular reactivity and coronary heart disease, as exemplified in the books “Anger, Hostility, and the Heart” (co-edited with Timothy Smith) and “In Search of Coronary Prone Behavior: Beyond Type A” (co-edited with Theodore Dembroski).

Colleagues and former students fondly remember lively discussions about history, politics, philosophy, religions, and literature; Aron’s remarkable ability to translate complex psychological concepts into testable scientific hypotheses; his tenacious dedication and advocacy of colleagues, students, the department, and the discipline; and his love and devotion to his wife Sarah, their three sons David, Jonathan, and Eli, and their many grandchildren.

Jason Schiffman, Psychology, in The Daily Beast

An article published February 9 in The Daily Beast titled “What Military Base Shootings Reveal about the Mental Health Debate” examines if better mental health screening can prevent future tragedies from occurring.

Jason Schiffman

Psychology Associate Professor Jason Schiffman was interviewed for the story and is currently a staff member at Maryland’s Center for Excellence on Early Intervention for Serious Mental Illness. In the article, he argues early treatment for people experiencing symptoms of psychosis and schizophrenia can help prevent them from causing harm to themselves or others.

“Studies show one in 5 people in their early phases of psychosis will have a suicide attempt, which is a really high number,” Schiffman said. He is working with his team of researchers to identify young people with psychosis in order to help them get on a path towards leading a life they want to live.

“They may not have the full symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions, or beliefs held onto tenaciously despite evidence to the contrary. They may not be hearing voices or believe the FBI has planted a microchip in their tooth,” Schiffman explains. “But a lot of times people who eventually develop psychosis have anxiety symptoms early on. They suffer from distress that they can’t exactly explain.”

In the article, Schiffman also points to other countries such as Norway and Australia which dedicate money and resources to reducing stigma associated with mental illness.

“In Norway, mental health concerns are not considered something you have to hide or something that makes you a bad person,” said Schiffman. “In Australia, they approach young people from a community-oriented perspective. Mental health centers are kind of like YMCAs, where young people are playing pool, talking, not stigmatized into hiding who they are.”

You can read the full article in The Daily Beast here.