Forget everything you think you know about yawning, because most of it just isn’t true. We don’t yawn because we’re tired or even as the result of a lack of oxygen.
The fact is, nobody really knows why we yawn, although scientists say that the oxygen thing isn’t too far off the mark. They do recognize that deep breaths (like we take when yawning) benefit our lungs, but they still don’t think that’s the main reason we yawn.
There’s no explanation for why we yawn when we’re sleepy, but we do know that boredom and cold weather tend to bring the yawns on. Studies have shown that we’re more likely to catch flies when it’s chilly outside and we’re a tiny bit bored.
If you think that yawning is contagious, you’re right. According to Robert Provine, a psychology and neuroscience professor at the University of Maryland, there have been several studies on why one person’s yawn passes itself around, and the general consensus is that yawning is a social phenomenon that’s tied to empathy.
However, according to a 2012 study, yawns are most likely to be shared between people who are close to each other. So if you’re wondering if your crush likes you, try yawning in front of them and gauge their reaction. Yawning shares a lot of the same social aspects as laughter; we’ve all found ourselves laughing at something that wasn’t particularly funny just because the rest of the group is doing it. Yes—yawning is a primitive type of peer pressure!
Everyone yawns; even a fetus yawns in the womb. Scientists suspect that this could have something to do with brain development, but again, that is only speculation at this point.
The average yawn lasts for about six seconds. During the time you spend yawning, your heart rate increases dramatically. A study performed last year followed the changes that the human body goes through before, during and after yawning and discovered that a surprising amount of physiological changes occur during that short period of time. Increases in heart rate, lung and eye muscle tension were noticed during or immediately following a yawn. The scientists in this study speculate that this is consistent with the brain cooling hypothesis.
Even animals yawn. As a matter of fact, there are entire websites on the internet devoted to cute pictures of puppies and kittens yawning. What I wonder is how many of those pictures were taken by humans who began yawning immediately afterward?
Yawning is a perfectly normal activity that everyone engages in. Animals, unborn babies, even coma patients all yawn with regularity and yet no one knows exactly why. What we do know is that it does benefit our lungs and it may benefit our brains.
Photo credit: Yawn! by quinn.anya. Used under a Creative Commons license.
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