You may have felt mightily offended when someone yawned in the middle of your brilliant discourse, but it may not even be because of boredom. It may be just a matter of an overly warm room. Here are five interesting things we believe about yawning based on research.
1. Yawning is cool
The next time someone yawns while you’re talking, it may be because you are making them think, so take it as a compliment!
One study shows that yawning may actually help in regulating a “warm” brain, cooling it down to help someone concentrate better and think more clearly because of physiological changes that occur unique to yawning. Researchers estimate that higher ambient temperatures (>20° C) tend to increase the number of times a person yawns, regardless of any other stimuli. Yawning also occurs more frequently when the brain is “warm” due to stress, cortical arousal (i.e. thinking), and sleep deprivation. The last factor is common, which is why yawning is often associated with sleepiness.
Instead of yawning, you can cool down your brain by breathing through your nose or putting an ice pack on your forehead, but it is much less satisfying.
2. Yawning is a survival mechanism
You may have heard that yawning is contagious, but do you know why? Researchers at the State University of New York at Albany set out to find out, and believe they know: survival! The study confirms that yawning cools the brain and increases alertness, but the researchers believe the reason it spreads from person to person, especially among those that share an emotional or genetic bond, is to keep the group alert as a whole to any danger that may exist. It is particularly true While there is not much chance of anything physically dangerous happening in a classroom or office, this survival mechanism persists. At any rate, it makes you more alert, which is always a good thing.
Interesting fact: Psychopaths are immune to contagious yawning because they lack empathy.
3. Yawning may signal development problem
Doctors often witness unborn babies yawning, but it is probably not because they are bored in the womb. Some researchers think that frequent yawning beyond the 36th week may indicate a problem in the brain development of the baby in utero. This is not actually a fact, but it may be an early indication of problems with fetal development, at which point the doctors may choose to carry out more tests.
4. Yawning may indicate a health problem
While yawning does have a useful function, yawning too much may mean you have a health problem. It may be due to a stimulation of the vagus nerve, which is a symptom of a tear in the aorta (aortic dissection) or a heart attack (myocardial infarction). It may also indicate a problem with the brain, such as multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, tumor, or stroke. If you think you are yawning excessively, consult with a physician.
5. Yawning longer means a bigger brain
Yawning is not exclusive to humans. Primates and other mammals also yawn, but there are some differences. A study of 29 YouTube videos of animals yawning suggests that the longer the yawn, the larger the brain. To put it in context, mice yawn for an average of 1.5 seconds, while humans yawn for an average of 6 seconds.
Now, don’t start practicing longer yawns! It doesn’t work that way.
Despite the number of studies focusing on the nature of yawning, we don’t actually know much know about it. Everything stated above are merely scientific observations and best-guesses, not facts. However, there is enough evidence to support them as a working hypothesis for future research. In addition, you have to admit they’re mighty interesting!
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Further Readings. Also clickable in the article above.