Read More UMBC News Blog Stories

January 25, 2001

UMBC Professor to Help Alan Alda Ask:
"What Is Laughter?" On PBS

Scientific American Frontiers, a PBS science series hosted by Alan Alda, will air "Life's Little Questions II" on January 30 at 8:00 ET. In this one-hour episode, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) psychology professor Robert Provine helps Alda awaken the child scientist inside him and ask some seemingly trivial questions that have surprisingly significant answers. For instance, what is laughter and why do we laugh?

Amid a sea of "laugh boxes" in Provine's lab, Alda learns about the role of laughter in human relationships, how walking on two legs may have influenced our ability to laugh, and how human laughter differs from animal laughter.

To Alda's professional dismay, Provine suggests that laughter really has nothing to do with jokes or comedy. Provine's research shows that people laugh as an involuntary reaction to hearing others laugh. That laughing, like crying, is hard to do on command bolsters this assertion. Provine believes that laughter is a primitive social interaction we share with other primates. Human laughter patterns are different from those of chimpanzees, however, and Provine believes it's our upright stance that allows us to produce a variety of sounds, including speech.

WHO: Robert Provine is the world's leading expert on the physiology, psychology and sociology behind such involuntary human behaviors as laughter and yawning. His research has been profiled by The New York Times, Washington Post, Psychology Today, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, ABC News' "20/20," American Scientist, Newsday, The San Francisco Chronicle, New Scientist and Discover. His most recent book is "Laughter, a Scientific Investigation" (Viking, 2000.)

WHEN:Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2001PBS8:00 PM (CHECK LOCAL LISTINGS)

WHERE:The segment was filmed on location in Prof. Provine's lab and classroom at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Posted by dwinds1 at January 25, 2001 12:00 AM