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Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond

3.17  ·  Rating Details  ·  149 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews
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.

Hardcover, 271 pages
Published August 31st 2012 by Belknap Press
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Nov 22, 2012 Deb rated it it was amazing
**Nothing to sneeze at. (Including the explanation of why we sneeze.)**

Now, how many other books out there have an entire chapter dedicated to farting and belching?

This book is truly one of a kind. In addition to farting and belching, other curious human behaviors such as yawning, laughing, hiccupping, coughing, tickling, itching, vomiting, crying, and tearing are explored like never before. A developmental neuroscientist, the author takes us on a tour of the evolutionary origins and communicati
Rock Angel
"both passing gas and speaking involve the expulsion of gas and vibration to produce a sound. Why, he asks, did we evolve to speak with one end of our digestive pathway, and not the other?"

And then there is the peril of exporting natural gas:

"The World Journal of Gastroenterology cited 20 colonic explosions reported in the medical literature from 1952 to 2006."

i read a snippet of excerpt and found his style awkward. Hence the i-aint-sure label

A fellow
Peter Mcloughlin
A potpourri of some of our automatic and overlooked quirks in human behavior. Yawning, laughing, crying, tearing, sneezing, hiccupping, expelling flatus, and a bit on behavior of fetuses. A lot of interesting factoids in this book for cocktail conversation and some insight into uniquely social and human aspects of ubiquitous behavior that is usually not noted. Most of this behavior that we dismiss as trivial does illustrate how deeply social our species is as a lot of it is used for signaling to ...more
Jun 19, 2016 JQAdams rated it liked it
As a series of chapters studying everyday behaviors*, this book provides a nice entrée into basic neuropsychology and, because many of the behaviors are contagious (yawning, vomiting) or inherently involve multiple people (tickling), social psychology as well. Provine is admirably willing to throw in technical language ("the motor output of the spinal cord via the ventral roots was not disturbed"), though mostly he tries to keep the tone light. Not aggressively light to the point where he's tryi ...more
Jul 24, 2016 Cheryl is currently reading it
ebook wnc - reading for the chapter on laughter as communication, as alluded to in an Edge question response by Provine

Gosh the chapter on yawning took a long time to read.... ;)

Chimps can't talk because they don't have breath control - we who are bipedal have freed our breathing pattern from the sync. of our locomotion and can therefore laugh within one exhalation, instead of pant-laugh in sync. with our breathing. "Laughter is literally the ritualized sound of the labored breathing of ritualiz
May 10, 2014 Little rated it really liked it
I'll admit that reading the chapter on yawning was a bit of a struggle. The whole "yawning" thing got to be a bit much. I also think it's easier to cry than to hiccough. My 2 year old can cry at will pretty easily, and I don't know anyone who can actually hiccough on command. That pettiness aside, Curious Behavior is an interesting read, and I love the irreverent tone of the book, espousing that science is for everyone and cheap experiments are as valuable as ones requiring fancy equipment. Prov ...more
Sehar  Moughal
Mar 01, 2014 Sehar Moughal rated it really liked it
A great read. Basic actions that we never think about are thoroughly explained integrated with past and current research. Anecdotal stories at the start of each chapter makes it more relatable and interesting. Each topic is discussed from an evolutionary point of view which puts everything in perspective. However, the discussion is limited and is understandable since not much thought/research is being given to the topics in question. Overall, Provine does a good job in getting the message across ...more
Dec 06, 2013 Lee-ann rated it did not like it
very dry, didn't finish
Sep 25, 2012 Book rated it really liked it
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 compo
First sentence: "We humans are talkative, sociable, bipedal, tool-using mammals that Shakespeare found noble in reason and infinite in faculty."

In this book, Robert Provine investigates the neurobiology, evolutionary history, and humorous anecdotes of human behaviors that most people take for granted and do not discuss in polite society (sneezing, yawning, scratching, farting, vomiting, etc.). It is all presented in a way that is acceptable to the layperson and includes easy experiments that the
Jan 19, 2015 Ethan rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
In the spirit of Rachel Carson, Provine uses a highly accessible writing style to tell people why they do the things they do. Unfortunately, Provine comes across as having a chip on his shoulder, emphasizing the importance and practicality of HIS type of research in almost every chapter. Ultimately, the book could use more continuity in style and content. Each chapter comes across as an abstract rather than an in-depth analysis. Focusing on one subject may be more effective.

It's generally an un
Dian Cronan
Feb 21, 2015 Dian Cronan rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
BORING! Not nearly as interesting as Mary Roach's books. It is full of jargon that most readers will not understand, even with a dictionary handy. It's much too technical.
Jody Berinato
Jul 07, 2014 Jody Berinato rated it did not like it
I really tried to get into it and enjoy the book but I found it boring and uninteresting. I originally thought it would have had more humor in it.
Erdem Tasdelen
Jul 19, 2014 Erdem Tasdelen rated it did not like it
Quite possibly one of the most boring books I have ever read.
Apr 20, 2016 Nlb rated it really liked it
I love how the book was formatted, and sectioned. The content was also very engaging. It made me reflect on my everyday habits, and others. It's a really good read, and can give your small talk game a bump.
Apr 06, 2014 Jeremy rated it liked it
Shelves: qr-books-shelf
Curious behavior was a good book that indulged me on what causes, and the origins of behaviors like laughing, crying, and yawning (i.e. it is not to provide extra oxygen to the brain). If you want to know, read the book!
Becky Roper
May 21, 2013 Becky Roper rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
The author of this non-fiction book is a Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience. He tries to explain in plain language and with some humor, the strange goings-on we experience in our bodies. I learned a few interesting facts, but it wasn't necessarily worth the time it took to read. I was hoping for a little more physiology and a little less lame jokes and cartoons. Sigh.
Dec 05, 2012 Vicky rated it it was ok
I really wanted to find this interesting, and I know he was trying to speak in layman's terms, but it just wasn't cutting it. The behavioural keyboard doesn't even make sense. The lower keys on a piano aren't harder to play, for crying out loud! This book might be fun for scientists to read but I tried really hard for 170 pages before I gave up.
Oct 20, 2012 Dan rated it liked it
Uneven, but I suspect that most readers will find some parts very interesting and some not so compelling. I especially enjoyed the chapters discussing the psychophysiology of yawning and vomiting, and how could anyone resist the tale of Frenchman Joseph Pujol who was the most highly paid entertainer of his time, farting music at the Moulin Rouge?
Jan 03, 2013 Donna rated it did not like it
Normally I enjoy this sort of "science for the common man" type book. But this one didn't live up to my expectations. The prose was not compelling and the balance of science to interesting anecdote was too heavy on the science end. Interesting subject matter - just needed a better translator to make it a compelling read.
Jan 18, 2013 Cheryle rated it liked it
Three stars for originality, two stars because my (admittedly unrealistic) expectations were not met. I still can't explain the phenomenons of contagious yawns, laughter or tears after having the topics explained to me by a professor of Psychology and Neuroscience.
It's not you, Dr. Provine, it's me.
Alexi Parizeau
Jun 30, 2015 Alexi Parizeau rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There aren't many books that seriously investigate tickling, laughing, crying, etc. I really appreciated the science that was thrown at these behaviors, especially since so little is actually understood. But it's the last chapter on embryology that I loved the most. Very interesting stuff.
Jul 26, 2013 Ruska rated it liked it
Loads of accessible brain fun. I wonder whar Provine might think about my friend, the hiccup-stopping equivalent of Rasputin... I feel like the farts were almost forced in between the more related behaviours - fortunately though. I laughed until I farted. This book turned me into a monkey. Thanks.
Jun 08, 2015 kristin rated it liked it
Shelves: library
This is really more of a 3.5. It is by no means a must-read, but it was very interesting especially if you like "sidewalk neuroscience (simple & cheap observations of everyday life that everyone can do)."

The best quote: "Sneezes are humbling."
Linda Rosenfeld magid
Well, sometimes reading reviews isn't such a good thing. I read a few that said it wasn't a great read so I didn't read much of it. I took it out of the library so I might read bits and pieces when I visit with my daughter.
Apr 09, 2013 William rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
Never has our coughing, tickling, itching, belching (and all else mentioned in the subtitle) been explored so nicely in one compact book. If not a page turner, it is at least easy to pick up and read at any particular point.
Ady Grafovna
Jan 24, 2015 Ady Grafovna rated it liked it
Shelves: science
This should actually be a 3.5 star book. It is interesting, but a little dry. I wouldn't call this a must-read book, but it was entertaining to a certain degree and not a waste of time.
Jaki King
Dec 10, 2015 Jaki King rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015-books-read
The chapters on vomiting and itching were interesting, but the others seemed hobbled together and didn't illuminate much on the topic.
Jan 26, 2013 Mark rated it liked it
this book answers the questions you may or may not have asked about why you or anyone around does some of the things they do.
Apr 08, 2015 Mel rated it really liked it
Very interesting. The author loves his work and adds humor to explain scientific concepts. I'm glad I read it.
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