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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 16, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
As the author states he may be discussing some things in the smaller venues of science, but that doesn't mean they aren't interesting. The book is a microcosm of everyday things we take for granted and for which minimal hard research has been done over the years, which is in many cases what peaked the author's interest in the various things he reports on.

I found the first chapter on yawning to be the most interesting in the book. We learn such things as:
1. Yawning holds clues as to the development of our sociability and ability to empathize with others
2. "[T]he contagiousness of yawns is so potent that simply discussing yawns triggers yawns." I found that to be true in reading this particular chapter.
3. We are informed that turtles, snakes, birds, and even fish yawn
4. Typical falsehoods regarding yawns are -
a) it is caused by tiredness
b) it is caused by too high a level of CO2 in the blood
I won't spoil it for you as to what causes yawns, so you'll need to read the book to find out.

The chapter on laughter was simply fascinating, especially when I found out the women laugh more than men and that they truly like men who can make them laugh. Yep, according to the professor, that part of the dating game is the truth.

As for crying we find out that:
1. A crying baby increases breast temperature and prolactin levels in lactating females
2. Crying in babies increases from birth to about six weeks and then decreases in intensity and duration to about four months at which level it stays until the baby is about a year old.

Regarding the chapter on tears [p80-81], we are informed that elephants, chimps, and newborn humans cannot cry emotional tears. You'll need to read to find out the purpose behind them.

One fascinating thing told in the chapter on hiccups [p130] was of the Iowa farmer named Charles Osborne who began hiccuping in 1922 and didn't stop until 1990. Obviously he was in the Guinness book of World Records for his feat, but he didn't let such a thing as hiccuping slow him down as he was married twice, ran several businesses and had eight kids. :) BTW he died at 98 from complications of ulcers.

Yet the most humorous chapter in the book was the next to last in which the author gave a rather thorough discussion of flatulence and burping. It seems that a Frenchman by the name of Joseph Pujols [1857-1945] who was nicknamed Le Petomane [you'll love the English translation of that] was the headliner at the Moulin Rouge from 1892-1914 and the highest paid entertainer in the world, beating out the second highest Sarah Bernhardt. Without discussing his other wonderments, it was stated he could give a loud and emphatic rendition of the Marseille using flatulence only. Also the only animals that communicate using flatulence are herrings. You can't make this stuff up, it is simply too weird to be false. Let me just say that you'll think this chapter is a REAL GAS.

None of the science behind this stuff will win you a Nobel Prize, but it is a lot of fun to read about it.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I'm a big fan of this book. Provine did a lot of the research being described, and has worked with some of the greatest minds in the neurosciences (Levi-Montalcini and Viktor Hamburger). At the same time, the book promotes "small science" that can be done without huge grants or complicated equipment. It is also amazing that no one had taken the time (or had the creativity) to look at such basic human behaviors with the eye of a scientist. I think there are a lot of lessons here about good basic science and good science writing.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon September 25, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping and Beyond by Robert R. Provine

"Curious Behavior" is an interesting yet incomplete pop-science book that covers our most curious behaviors. A mostly neglected area of science, this book covers the "other" familiar areas that are part of being human. Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Robert R. Provine has written a stimulating book on the everyday quirks of behavior. This 288-page book is composed of the following thirteen chapters (curious behaviors): 1. Yawning, 2. Laughing, 3. Vocal crying, 4. Emotional tearing, 5. White of the eyes, 6. Coughing, 7. Sneezing, 8. Hiccupping, 9. Vomiting and nausea, 10. Tickling, 11. Itching and scratching, 12. Farting and belching and 13. Prenatal behavior.

Positives:
1. Accessible popular science book that is fun to read while educational at the same time.
2. Neuroscience and psychology made fun. Quirks in our behavior, a fascinating topic.
3. The book's focus is to compare behaviors instead of organisms. The scientific approach used is ethology, the evolutionary based, biological study of behavior.
4. Yawning is the most complete chapter with plenty of examples enhanced with good illustrations. The four yawn variants.
5. The roots of sociality. The factors that contributed to it.
6. The author does a good job of letting the reader know what is backed by science versus what is folklore. In some instances, they are one and the same.
7. The importance of unconscious processes.
8. The peculiarities of laughter. The difference between genders. The contrast between human and chimpanzee laughter. The basis for bipedal theory of speech evolution.
9. Thought-provoking quotes, "Laughter is more about relationships than humor."
10. The difference between spontaneous and contagious crying. The difference between crying and laughter. Samples of pathological crying and laughter.
11. The uniquely human trait of emotional tearing. The tear effect.
12. The importance of the sclera (white of the eyes), social signaling.
13. The many causes of coughing. Cough variants.
14. The causes and phases of sneezing. Variations in sneezes.
15. Cures for bouts of hiccups. How little we know.
16. A look at the causes of vomiting and nausea. A look at bulimia.
17. The social play of tickling.
18. The link between itching and scratching.
19. The extraordinary "gift" of one Frenchman Joseph Pujol (1857-1945), with a curious stage name.
20. An "inside" look at prenatal behavior. "The most critical and least understood events in human life occur between conception and birth."
21. The behavioral keyboard.
22. Links to notes and references provided

Negatives:
1. The science is incomplete as made clear by the author. Not a reflection on the author but if you the reader are expecting conclusive data or something close to it on these matters you will be disappointed. Enough to whet the appetite but not enough to satisfy the hunger.
2. The author could have done a better job of letting the reader know what the current scientific consensus is outside of his own research.
3. The chapter on yawning was a high standard established early on that quite frankly the other chapters couldn't live up to.
4. Despite the fun nature of the topic, I felt the author didn't always let loose and the prose became dryer in those instances.

In summary, though incomplete I enjoyed this book. It covers fascinating quirks of human behavior ("Small" Science because it doesn't require a big budget) that has been neglected by science. It's a fun way to learn about human peculiarities and the author provided the reader with a lot of interesting tidbits. If you are looking for a popular science that addresses the often neglected quirks of being human, this book is worth reading.

Further suggestions: "Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior (Vintage)" by Leonard Mlodinow, "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" by Steven Pinker, "Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique" by Michael S. Gazzaniga, "SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable" by Bruce M. Hood, "The Third Basic Instinct: How Religion Doesn't Get You (Revised Edition)" by Ales S. Key, "Brain Cuttings: Fifteen Journeys Through the Mind" by Carl Zimmer, "The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution" by Gregory Cochran, "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry A. Coyne, "Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body" by Neil Shubin and "Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing" by Kathryn Bowers.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Teens will thrill to science when they get to study some of their favorite topics, themes that are not normally covered in the prescribed curriculum. Invite any tweenie to belch or fart and that challenge will be immediately accepted and performed. In this engrossing account of some curious physiological behaviors, neuroscientist Robert Provine not only describes the biologic basis for some curious human actions such as laughing, itching, hiccuping, vomiting, coughing, sneezing and several more curiosities, he also describes the experiments performed to clarify these sometimes embarrassing operations. One of the worst tortures recalled from childhood is the tickling torment, forget washboarding, tickling is quite effective. Queasy in the stomach, nausea need not be food related, just look at the ‘sea’ in the word and find its relationship to seasickness. Allergies affecting you, then consider sneezing several times each minute continuously for over a month as this action affected a youth reported here. Plagued with hiccups, while there is no cure, there are more than enough suggestive remedies that don’t work. To learn a bit about someone’s character, look at the whites of their eyes. These and more fascinating descriptions and explanations about human behavior oddities are candidly presented with added whimsy for sweetening. Suitable for all ages, it’s the sort of a book on quirky embarrassing behaviors that you observed and performed, but were too afraid to mention.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
This book covers territory that is rarely addressed and barely brushed past in most psych classes, and almost never mentioned in physiology except for the most extreme cases, as though the everyday noises and such that virtually every human experiences at least sometimes were of no consequence. He makes a good case for at least informal study of these by noting which are under some voluntary control (like laughing), which contribute to social interactions (tickling and, believe it or not, yawning!), and a number of other criteria that he discusses with appropriate humor and a certain tongue-in-cheek irreverence that makes the learning about these things we take for granted FUN! The author is a professor of psychology at UMBC, and a neuroscientist, and clearly one of those teachers I wish I'd had in college. His book is an enjoyable step away from the dead-seriousness of ordinary psych and neurophysiology, was enough to make me wonder why there are no studies of these ubiquitous human behaviors.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Does covering your mouth when you yawn help others avoid the yawn contagion? How do you cure the hiccups? What's the Guinness world record for loudest belch? So this might not be the deepest realm of imponderables regarding human behavior, but precisely because such things tend to be overlooked, perhaps it's worth taking some time to consider that maybe such everyday considerations really can tell us something important about ourselves precisely these are the things that we live with, day in and day out. Provine's review of what we know about such things to date is both informative and humorous, and one need not fear being bogged down in heavy physiology or psychology reading this book. My only complaint is that it felt short, with the coverage of some of the subjects feeling superficial, although often that's unfortunately just because there isn't more information available because the topics have been overlooked by researchers.
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on February 15, 2015
Format: Hardcover
This is from Belknap Press of Harvard, so the content is going to be good. Belknap seems to have a pattern of publishing books by long-time Harvard faculty, and this seems to be the case here. The author is chatty, as if he was sitting at a table with some students--he's in control of the conversation, but it's not a formal lecture, more a friendly discourse on things not often addressed scientifically.

We humans do yawn and belch, and--how to express it without being crude, passing gas? And it's all part of the human evolutionary package. There are of course many aspects of the human body that have not been explored by science--heart and digestive system, yes, belching, no. I found the book interesting, with a nice touch of wry humor. I'd like to be at that table with Professor Provine holding forth.
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on December 5, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book is a collection of essays on behavior that we cannot normally control or initiate, and through these it illustrates how social we humans are - witness the contagiousness of yawning, laughing, itching and scratching. The purposes of these behavior are also speculated upon, always convincingly. Humor also perfuses the pages. The final chapter on Prenatal Behavior is a gem - the concept of behavior shaping the brain is utterly profound. Five stars.
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on December 17, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Now this is not a book you just stumble upon!
The author provides plenty of information about instinctive human behaviors, such as yawning, smiling or coughing. Every claim is backed up by specific research observations and the language used is very understandable and exciting.
A very good book that will shed some light on the dark corners of curious human behavior.
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on July 8, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
This is a book I opened and could not put down. ( I read it start to finish in one sitting). Professor Provine states that he fills this book with “sidewalk neuroscience, a scientific approach to everyday behavior based on simple observations and demonstrations that readers, and even advanced grade-schoolers, can use to confirm, challenge, or extend the reported findings”. Citing research from around the world, he sparks our curiosity about behaviors we take for granted, and makes links between neuroscience, observation, psychology, and the study of people and animals.

He uses a Behavioral Keyboard in his Appendix to illustrate “the relative reaction times and associated voluntary control of the ten common behaviors” he discusses in this volume, including “cry, hiccup, sneeze, yawn, laugh, cough, ha ha, inhale, smile, and blink”. He teaches us that “yawns are contagious”, and that “mammals and most other animals with backbones yawn” including “turtles, crocodiles, snakes and fish”. He says that once started, a “yawn progresses with the inevitability of a sneeze…runs its course in about six seconds on average…”.

Dr. Provine discusses interesting and well documented behaviors that are funny and of interest. In his discussion about “the origin of the gas that powers farting”, he cites how this has been of interest since ancient times”, dating back to AD23-79. He teaches us that in recent studies “analytical chemists tell us that at least 99 percent of bowel gas is composed of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide … and methane (swamp gas)” arising “from processes in the gut”, none of which can be detected by smell.

In his research, our author found that laughter is more about “relationships than humor”. He found that: “People are more likely to smile or talk to themselves than they are to laugh when they are alone”. He believes laughter is a “response to face to face encounters. …Most conversational laughter” and “naturally occurring laughter” is not a “response to jokes or humorous stories” but rather to “mutual playfulness, in-group feeling, and positive emotional tone”. Dr. Provine says that while the effects “of laughter are complex”, we “need not wait for physicians, biologists, or the FDA to give us permission to laugh”. “Laughter feels good when we do it. Isn’t that enough?”

This book comes highly recommended by newspapers from around the world, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Times London, The Guardian UK, and Scientific American. I will add my humble kudos to this fun and fascinating adventure into naturally occurring human behaviors.
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