Robert Provine, Psychology, on MSNBC.com’s “The Body Odd”

“It’s the height of cold and flu season, with people coughing and sneezing and blowing their noses (not to mention their germs) every which way,” reports MSNBC’s “Body Odd” blog.

But not all those coughs and throat clears stem from illness, says Robert Provine, professor of psychology, who points out that we often cough when we hear others cough.

“We don’t know at this time [what’s behind it],” he says. “For example, is it because we have a brain mechanism that when it detects that sound, replicates it, as we seem to have for laughing and yawning? Or are we simply more likely to monitor our throat, to think, ‘Oh, there’s a tickle in my throat. I have to cough.’ The apparent contagiousness of coughing may be due to enhanced self-monitoring and not to a contagious response in the way we find in contagious laughs and yawns.”

The full post, “I cough, you cough: Why it’s contagious” appeared on the blog on February 29.

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