Robert Provine, Psychology, Explains the Science of Laughter

Robert ProvinePsychology Research Professor and Professor Emeritus Robert Provine recently conducted two interviews with podcast programs to explain his research on neglected human instincts such as laughter, hiccuping, and sneezing.

On WBUR’s “You’re the Expert,” a program that brings together comedians and academics in which panelists learn more about research topics of broad interest, Provine appeared at DC Improv Comedy Club to record the segment in front of a live audience. The podcast addressed a wide range of topics, and Provine talked about his research process in trying to get people to laugh.

“The key ingredient to get people to laugh is not a joke. It’s about having other people around. It’s about relationships,” he noted. Listen to the full segment on WBUR.

In another podcast titled “Here We Are,” which is hosted by comedian Shane Mauss as he interviews science experts to gain a better understanding of human behavior, he talked with Provine about his research and the difference between laughter and humor.

“Historically, humor and laughter have been pretty much treated as the same thing. I separated them out and focused on laughter in part because I didn’t know what to do with humor. As a neuroscientist coming to the study of human behavior, I wanted to have something that I could describe in detail and analyze the neuro-mechanisms involved in it,” Provine said. Listen to the full segment on Here We Are’s website.

Danielle L. Beatty Moody, Psychology, Receives NIH Career Development Award

Danielle BeattyDanielle L. Beatty Moody, an assistant professor of psychology, has received a Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The five-year, $600,000 project will investigate the ways in which racial disparities in exposure to early life social disadvantage promote accelerated diseases and disorders related to the brain including stroke, dementia, and cognitive decline in African Americans across the span of the lifetime.

“Pronounced racial disparities are observed across multiple clinical and subclinical brain health endpoints in African Americans compared to Whites and may be attributable, in part, to accelerated age-related disease processes,” NIH stated in a public health relevance statement announcing the award.

“The interrelations among life course social disadvantage, accelerated aging, and brain health endpoints have been grossly understudied and are crucial to developing appropriate prevention and intervention strategies geared toward reducing and ultimately eliminating race-related health disparities in brain aging,” Dr. Beatty Moody explained in the award announcement.

Beatty Moody, as the primary investigator of the project, will work with 300 participants in the study to determine whether early life social disadvantage is related to MRI-indicators of brain pathology predictive of future stroke and cognitive decline and if they are more pronounced in African American than White adults. She will also research potential psychosocial, behavioral, and biomedical mediators of those associations.

Professor Beatty Moody’s research interests focus on cardiovascular disease, health and racial/ethnic disparities, psychosocial stressors, socioeconomic status, and discrimination. Read more about her research on the psychology department website. Read the Career Development Award announcement on the NIH website.

Robert Provine, Psychology, Explains Why We Yawn in Wired Magazine

In a Wired article published on June 23, Psychology Research Professor and Professor Emeritus Robert Provine shared insight into why humans yawn when they do. Provine has done extensive research on the topic and is author of Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond.

Robert ProvineIn the article, Provine noted that we tend to yawn when we are tired: “Right after waking and before bedtime,” he said, “which is consistent with yawning’s role in facilitating state changes: sleep to wakefulness, wakefulness to sleep, arousal to de-arousal, or vice versa.”

When further examining the reasons for yawning beyond physiological state changes, Provine shared that, “Nervous people will definitely yawn more, but there haven’t been a lot of formal studies investigating why.”

The article also stated that: “Some psychologists, including Provine, suggest that anxious yawning could be an example of what’s known as a displacement activity—i.e., behavior that results from an uncomfortable or stressful situation and that seems out of context. Examples in humans include scratching one’s head, stroking a non-existent beard, or repeatedly tugging on an earlobe. Animals do it too. Ever see a cat go after a bird, miss, and then immediately start grooming itself? That’s not some awkward attempt to play it cool. It’s a displacement behavior.”

To read the full article “Big Question: Why Do I Yawn When I’m Nervous or Stressed?” click here.

Shari Waldstein, Psychology, Named Lipitz Professor for 2015-2016

Shari WaldsteinShari Waldstein, professor of psychology, has been named the Lipitz Professor for 2015-2016. This professorship is supported by an endowment created by Roger C. Lipitz and the Lipitz Family Foundation “to recognize and support innovative and distinguished teaching and research in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.”

A clinical psychologist who specializes in cardiovascular behavioral medicine and medical neuropsychology, Dr. Waldstein is known internationally for fundamental contributions to the understanding of the links among early, multi-level risk factors for cardiovascular disease, sub-clinical brain pathology, neurocognitive performance, and their development across the lifespan. In recent years she has increasingly focused on identifying the multi-level mechanisms underlying race and socioeconomic status-related disparities in cardiovascular and brain health.

Since coming to UMBC, she has been awarded more than $6,000,000 in grants and contracts. Dr. Waldstein’s contributions to the profession of psychology are numerous. She has served for 18 years as director of the behavioral medicine track in our human services psychology Ph.D. program and has mentored 22 Ph.D. students. She also works closely with colleagues at UMB, where she holds a secondary faculty appointment as professor of medicine. For more information about her work, click here.

UMBC’s Psychology Training Clinic Featured in the Baltimore Sun’s April Education Section

Rebecca SchactIn its April education section, the Baltimore Sun published an article on programs that prepare students to provide effective, evidence-based care for patients. UMBC’s Psychology Training Clinic, part of the Psychology Training, Research, and Services Center at the South Campus Research and Technology Park, was featured in the article. Rebecca Schacht, a clinical assistant professor of psychology and director of the clinic, was quoted extensively in the story and discussed the new clinic, which provides low-cost therapy for people struggling with anxiety, depression, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Graduate-level students provide care under supervision of licensed psychologists.

“This is really the standard for training,” Schacht said. While students also train in community outpatient clinics, “you don’t get as much oversight there. It allows us to have more contact with our students to train them in evidence-based treatment.” Patients at the clinic agree to be recorded, and then the professors review the tapes with the students. “It benefits the students and the patients because there’s a lot more focus,” Schacht added. “You really think more deeply about each person.”

Students at the clinic study the latest research which benefits patients and Schacht noted the training at the clinic will provide the field with effective practitioners. “One of the biggest determinants in whether people get better is the relationship with their therapist,” she said. For more information about the clinic, click here.

Robert Provine, Psychology, in the Baltimore Sun

Robert ProvineIn response to new research from Johns Hopkins University, Psychology Research Professor and Professor Emeritus Robert Provine was interviewed for an article in the Baltimore Sun discussing his research on human social behavior and attractiveness. The Johns Hopkins study found that human perception of attractiveness may be fluid, contagious, and often influenced by what is generally considered attractive by others.

In the article, Provine said that it is fashion that is shifting constantly, rather than an evolutionary standard of beauty in culture. He noted that people don’t realize they are frequently pushed to like something new and different.

“We are not always captain of our ship,” he said. What’s constant across nearly all societies and eras is that “clear eyes, good skin and long, lustrous hair are always signs of beauty,” Provine added.

“They are reliable, honest signals because they are hard to change,” he said. “When has disease, red, runny eyes, hair that’s falling out and skin lesions been attractive? Ultimately, beauty is a matter of good health and the evolutionary product of likely reproductive success. There is nothing arbitrary about beauty.”

To read the full article titled “Beauty is in the shifting eye of the beholder,” click here.

Robert Provine, Psychology, in the Globe and Mail and New York Magazine

Robert ProvinePsychology Research Professor and Professor Emeritus Robert Provine has been in the news recently for his research on crying. In an article published in Canada’s Globe and Mail, Provine shared insight about his work.

He discussed how someone else’s crying “is appealing to you to provide caregiving, and at least sympathy,” which can be emotionally tiring, if not exhausting. “Dealing with crying people can be ‘expensive’ in the sense that they have needs that you’ll be expected to meet,” said Provine. He also discussed how the idea of crying making someone feel better is “complicated”: “Some people may report it feeling good, but the evidence about that is unclear,” he said.

In an article in New York Magazine‘s “Science of Us” section, Provine discussed how crying isn’t easy to do on command and is hard to stop, once started. “Emotional tearing is under very weak conscious control — most people can’t do it voluntarily,” Provine said.

To read both articles, click below:
Crying daily isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s an all-human super-power (Globe and Mail)
How to stop yourself from crying (New York Magazine)