Oscitation or the act of
yawning is the involuntary opening of the mouth with respiration, breathing
first inward, then outward. Even thinking of yawning can cause you to do so,
and it isn’t something you should try to stop if you feel it coming. If you
yawn it’s usually because your body needs it. So, what’s the reason behind this
uncontrollable act called yawning?
Almost all vertebrates yawn.
We do this on a daily basis. Maybe in a boring meeting or class, in the
mornings when we wake up, or even at night before we go to bed. Humans as well
as different animals including some fish, birds and even snakes yawn. Some
snakes usually yawn after a good meal. There are animals that yawn to show
aggression like baboons and guinea pigs. Penguins yawn too, but presumably not
because they’re bored, and only yawn during courtship rituals.
There are many theories which
leads to why we actually yawn, but people’s opinions differ. One common theory
amongst various of people is that we yawn due to lack of oxygen in our bodies,
but this theory has mostly been proven to be false.
A newer, most recent study
suggests that yawning has nothing to do with being bored or tired but instead
we yawn to regulate our brains temperature. A 2014 study published in
Physiology and behaviour looked at the yawning habits of 120 people and it has
been found that yawning occurred less during the winter. If the brain’s
temperature gets too far outside of the standard temperature, inhaling air can
help to cool it down.
Think of it as a computer. A
yawn is like a computers fan. Just like a computer the brain also has an
optimal working temperature, and when it becomes too hot, yawning helps to cool
the brain down, increasing both your heart and your blood flow, while getting a
huge gulp of air to the head, cooling the blood in that area.
You might ask why we yawn when
we are exhausted. Both lack of sleep and tiredness are known to increase the
temperature of our brains. While it’s true that we yawn due to lack of sleep,
yawns do not actually make us “more awake” but instead help keep our brains
operating at the correct temperature.
Previously we thought that
yawning served as breathing function, helping us to wake up with a great amount
of oxygen when we were feeling inactive. Studies have shown that when we yawn
it doesn’t rise the oxygen levels in the body, something that agrees with the
simple observation that we do not yawn while exercising, a time when we
definitely need more oxygen.
Another question that’s on
most people’s minds is if yawning is in fact contagious. If you did catch a
yawn during looking at images of people yawning or yawned during this speech,
hopefully not because of boredom, it’s a good thing. According to a study from
Baylor University you are showing empathy and bonding.
The study which were published
in Personality and Individual Differences, looked at 135 college students and
their personalities. It showed how they reacted to facial movements. The
results showed that less empathy a person had, the less likely he or she would
yawn after seeing someone else yawn.
Another study from the
University of Albany which found that contagious yawning can in fact be
directly influenced using hot and cold objects. Researchers found that people
watching a video of people yawing were 41 percent likely to yawn themselves
while holding a warm objects to their head, but only 9 percent likely to yawn
when holding a cold objects to their heads.
According to NY daily news
other animals yawn too. Just like human beings when, primates like monkeys are
around someone they are close with, they might display a contagious yawn. Dogs
yawn too, but not because of other dogs but because of their masters actually.
The research thus concluded that yawning is contagious to animals.
Yawning is so contagious that
we only need to hear, read or look at pictures or other people yawn, to want to
yawn ourselves. If you did yawn during this speech, I’m assuming it wasn’t
because you are bored, but thanks to your yawning and your newly cooled brain,
you’re probably more alert than you were before.