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Editorial Reviews

Review

A lively and entertaining romp through the quirks and oddities of the least controllable of human behaviors. The writing style and topics are so provocative, one is hard pressed not to enact these behaviors while reading. (Rachel Herz, Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, Brown University, and author of That's Disgusting)

The indefatigably curious Robert Provine explores the little quirks of behavior that—so far—have fascinated everyone but the scientists, and in doing so illuminates many aspects of our social lives, inner lives, and evolutionary origins. (Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of How the Mind Works and The Better Angels of Our Nature)

Robert Provine shows how the methods of sidewalk neuroscience (simple and cheap observations of everyday life that everyone can do) can give rise to an alternative science of psychology. This is a delight to read, fascinating and humane and very often funny. (Paul Bloom, Yale University, author of How Pleasure Works)

Why do we laugh? Why do we yawn? Why do we cry? What is itch? Finally, here is a book that addresses these age-old issues! Provine, the leading researcher of such phenomena, discovers the extraordinary hidden in plain sight. It's a joy to read. (James W. Kalat, North Carolina State University, author of Biological Psychology (11th ed.))

Curious Behavior offers a lively and often surprising look at all the different ways we sneeze, cough, yawn, and broadcast other bodily functions. Open this book, which is based on serious research but reads like a detective novel, and find out how much more there is to such behavior than you ever thought. (Frans de Waal, Emory University, author of The Age of Empathy)

In this marvelous book, Provine—a pioneer in the field—puts these phenomena in proper evolutionary contexts, arguing that such seemingly odd quirks can often illuminate our understanding of human nature. (V.S. Ramachandran, University of California, San Diego, author of The Tell-Tale Brain)

The book provides a not-yet definitive, but often fascinating, take on our most curious behaviors. (Publishers Weekly 2012-06-04)

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 2012-08-01)

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 2012-08-13)

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 2012-08-24)

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 2012-08-25)

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 2012-08-23)

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 2012-08-02)

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 2012-09-15)

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 2012-09-22)

[Provine] is a valiant man and this is an original book: a book about people's quirks and the uncomfortable noises that we have suppressed, particularly after Victorian times. Why would someone study those seemingly uninteresting and inappropriate acts? I would say the answer lies in the questions this neuroscientist has asked himself: why do we burp or sneeze? What is a cough? What has really gone with the wind? Well, you don't really know--and you won't until you read Curious Behavior...This disarmingly enchanting book manages to 'handle' even flatulence in the most skillful and scientific manner without ever losing focus on Provine's aim: an accurate description of the topic via a look at mechanisms, evolutionary advantages, limits and statistics...Prepare to be contaminated by this book and get ready to analyze the way you sneeze, cough and everything else. (Tristan Bekinschtein Times Higher Education 2012-11-15)

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...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 talk about. (Aron Row Sacramento Book Review 2012-11-21)

Readers will enjoy the stories and find the glimpses into the neuroscience of these curious behaviors engaging. (K. S. Milar Choice 2013-01-01)

About the Author

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

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; Sew edition (August 31, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674048512
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674048515
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #471,990 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By D_shrink VINE VOICE on September 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified 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.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By CK on September 3, 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 By Book Shark TOP 500 REVIEWER on September 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified 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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By aron row on January 5, 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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