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Social sciences/Psychology/Behavioral psychology/Human behavior/Laughter

Remarks by Sarah Wassner Flynn as she accepted her 2018 SB&F Prize in the Hands-On Science category.
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“A scientist walks into a comedy club,” could easily be the set up for a joke. Yet, several researchers have recently started stepping out from behind their laboratory benches and into the spotlights at open mic nights. These new comedic species are not only making their audiences laugh with smart humor, but they are also experimenting with new ways for scientists to interact with the broader public.

All humans have a few odd behaviors that most people never think about. Why do we laugh? Why do our eyes tear when we cry? Why do we get the hiccups, or sneeze, or yawn? And why do we talk out of our mouths and not another noise-making orifice? 

These are the questions AAAS Fellow Robert R. Provine answers in his new book, Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond. In the book, Provine examines the odd things people do and share, looking at their evolutionary origins and what they can teach us about being human.

But the book looks at more than these funny quirks left over from Homo sapiens' evolutionary past. Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, makes a case for "sidewalk neuroscience." This is neuroscience that can be preformed by anyone. All it takes is observing human behavior and noticing habits or shared traits. This small science is also a great way for kids to learn to examine the world and be curious about what they see.

Robert R. Provine also recorded a podcast from his last book, Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.

We all laugh, often for seemingly uncontrollable and unexplained reasons. Laughter is contagious -- hear another person laugh and you can't help but join in. And we all do it. No matter where you were brought up, it is prescribed in your genetic makeup that you laugh. But why?

AAAS Fellow Robert Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County, is an expert in laughter and other behavioral quirks all humans share, like tickling and yawning. He wrote a book titled Laughter: A Scientific Investigation to look into why we laugh and decipher why it is important to our species. He found that chimpanzees also laugh, but the differences between our laughs and the way chimpanzees laugh may give us a hint as to why we are capable of speech and chimpanzees are not.

In this podcast, Provine reads parts of his book and describes what he discovered about laughter and why it is so important to all human beings. For more information, check out Dr. Provine's biography, and look in bookstores to pick up a copy of Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.