Curious Behavior

Curious Behavior : Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond

3.25 (225 ratings by Goodreads)
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Robert Provine boldly goes where other scientists seldom tread--in search of hiccups, coughs, yawns, sneezes, and other lowly, undignified human behaviors. Upon investigation, these instinctive acts bear the imprint of our evolutionary origins and can be uniquely valuable tools for understanding how the human brain works and what makes us different from other species. Many activities showcased in Curious Behavior are contagious, but none surpasses yawning in this regard--just reading the word can make one succumb. Though we often take it as a sign of sleepiness or boredom, yawning holds clues to the development of our sociality and ability to empathize with others. Its inescapable transmission reminds us that we are sometimes unaware, neurologically programmed beasts of the herd. Other neglected behaviors yield similar revelations. Tickling, we learn, may be the key to programming personhood into robots. Coughing comes in musical, medical, and social varieties. Farting and belching have import for the evolution of human speech. And prenatal behavior is offered as the strangest exhibit of all, defying postnatal logic in every way.
Our earthiest acts define Homo sapiens as much as language, bipedalism, tool use, and other more studied characteristics. As Provine guides us through peculiarities right under our noses, he beckons us to follow with self-experiments: tickling our own feet, keeping a log of when we laugh, and attempting to suppress yawns and sneezes. Such humble investigations provide fodder for grade school science projects as well as doctoral dissertations. Small Science can yield big rewards.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 288 pages
  • 144 x 217 x 24mm | 488g
  • The Belknap Press
  • Cambridge, Mass., United States
  • English
  • 27 line illustrations
  • 0674048512
  • 9780674048515
  • 339,917

Review quote

The book provides a not-yet definitive, but often fascinating, take on our most curious behaviors. Publishers Weekly 20120604 Provine has written a charming ode to 'Small Science'-science that does not require a large budget or fancy equipment but that is interesting nonetheless. Taking examples from his own research, some of which involved nothing more complicated than stalking graduate students and observing how and when they laugh, he explains the origins of some of the most prevalent, but often overlooked, human behaviors. -- Anna Kuchment Scientific American 20120801 With its many facts and anecdotes and unexpected stories, [Curious Behavior] begs you to continue where curiosity leads you, down both the boulevards and the back alleys of science. And that is exactly how [Provine] thinks science should be pursued. -- James Gorman New York Times 20120813 In this charmingly written and profoundly informative book, Provine gives us what he calls "sidewalk" neuroscience, a "scientific approach to everyday behavior based on simple observations and demonstrations that readers, even advanced grade-schoolers, can use to confirm, challenge, or extend the reported findings." In this era of "neurorealism," where much of the public believes you aren't doing real science if you aren't using fMRI to scan some brains, Provine's work in "small science" is refreshing. "The Small Science of this book is 'small,'" he explains, not because it is trivial but because it does not require "fancy equipment and a big budget." Small science teaches the art of observation and methods of interpretation: "Everyday life is teeming with the important and unexpected, if you know where to look and how to see." This message alone is worth the price of admission...Provine romps through the range of "curious behaviors" of his title, with each chapter offering up enlightening and unexpected findings...[A] marvelous book..."Small science" at its best. -- Carol Tavris Wall Street Journal 20120824 In Curious Behavior, neuroscientist Robert Provine discusses common yet seemingly strange actions, such as crying, tickling and yawning--subjects often overlooked by science. Beyond explaining how each of these actions work anatomically, Provine explores their functions, similarities and whether they might be linked by some higher, social purpose...Follow his advice, and Curious Behavior will leave you trying to yawn with clenched teeth, sneeze with your eyes open and noticing just how often you laugh at things that really aren't funny. -- Jessica Hamzelou New Scientist 20120825 In Curious Behavior, Robert Provine provides clear, entertaining, and (most importantly) data-driven accounts of familiar yet overlooked human quirks. These include yawning, laughing, crying, tears, coughing, sneezing, hiccupping, vomiting and nausea, tickling, itching and scratching, farting and belching, and finally prenatal behavior. If you think you know when and why you laugh, what makes a face look sad, or why people yawn, you're probably in for a surprise...Written with humor and wit, Curious Behavior is an accessible and entertaining read with its musings about the theoretical Doomsday yawn, ineffectual astronaut tears, and the social implications of coughing and laughter. But it is also serious science about the importance of defining stimuli, using specific language, and understanding the difference between what people think they do, and what they actually do. The book may provide new windows into autistic behaviors, schizophrenia, and the definition of self...In a world where there is an increasing gulf between the public and scientists, Provine leads by example with straightforward science communication...This book is a must-have for any connoisseur of human behavior, whether studying in a classroom or from a barstool. -- Kenneth C. Catania The Scientist 20120823 How can farting, sneezing and other marginal biological realities illuminate humanness? Neuroscientist Robert Provine turns an evolutionary lens on everything from the gross to the faintly improper. The "contagiousness" of yawning, for instance, hints at the roots of empathy and herd behavior. Burping and farting were involved in the development of speech, says Provine. And tickling may play a part in our early understanding that we are distinct beings (you can't tickle yourself). An exercise in "small science"--some of it speculative, all of it fascinating. Nature 20120802 Do you think that each of the behaviors covered here is merely a randomly eccentric human quirk? Think again. For each of these odd functions, Provine dexterously combines wit, a fine way with words, and precise scientific context, to show us the evolutionary reason behind it...This is a delectable presentation for all who love the territory between pop and hardcore science writing. Highly recommended. -- Margaret Heilbrun Library Journal 20120915 Why do we yawn, tickle, laugh, cough, scratch, sneeze, hiccup, vomit, or cry? Over the years, Provine has investigated these and other behaviors in the lab and on the street, and the result is beautifully written and constantly surprising. -- Steven Poole The Guardian 20120922
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About Robert R. Provine

Robert R. Provine is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
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Rating details

225 ratings
3.25 out of 5 stars
5 14% (31)
4 28% (63)
3 34% (76)
2 19% (42)
1 6% (13)
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