One of Science’s Most Baffling Questions: Why Do We Yawn?



If you’re like me you begin the better half of your day yawning. You yawn when you wake up, while you’re getting dressed, during the car ride and even in the office. Even if you are not feeling a yawn come along somebody around you is likely to spread it on to you.Yawning is contagious, right?

Yawning is so contagious that merely every animal with a backbone does it. Even babies in the fetus stage begin to yawn during the second trimester.  It only takes the mention of a yawn to start a powerful chain reaction. So if so many different species does this one simple act, what really makes one yawn?  Is it really because you are tired or can it be linked to a deeper physical need?

Scientists now believe that yawning is due to your brain being over optimal running temperature, just like how a radiator kicks on in your car to keep it cool. Yawning has been found to increase heart rate, blood flow and use muscles in your face which are all related to cooling your brain. Plus when you deeply inhale cold air it cools down the blood that is going to your head.

But then why do you yawn more when you are tired? Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are both known to raise the temperature of your brain, which could be the link between sleepiness and yawning. Researchers have even done tests where they hold hot and cold packs to participants heads while they watch videos of people yawning. The participants who had hot packs on their heads yawned 41 percent of the time while the people with cold packs yawned 9 percent of the time.

That could explain why you yawn, but what about contagious yawns? Contagious yawns have been found to be linked to empathy, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another being. Contagious yawns start in children around four to five which is when the average child starts feeling empathy and has the ability to recognize others emotions. Children with empathy related disorders such as autism yawn less while watching videos of people yawning than children who do not have the disorders. It has also been found that you are more likely to copy somebodies yawn that you have an emotional attachment to over somebody that you do not know.

One more thing that could play a role in contagious yawning are little neurons in your brain called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons fire off when we perform a certain action, see somebody else do the action or even just hear them talking about it. These neurons are related to learning, self -awareness and relating to others. When we see or hear somebody yawn our own mirror neurons activate and we instinctively copy them.

Of course researchers are still trying to figure out exactly why we yawn, maybe we’ll never know.

What do you think, is yawning related to brain temperature or is it some other outside force? 

Happy Discovery 


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