Until then, have you considered yawning to be a mere act of boredom or embarrassment?

Yawning is an involuntary opening of your mouth accompanied by a long inhalation, followed by a short expiration that brings you comfort.

Why is this important?

Studies indicate a significant increase in the heart rate at the peak of yawning. Yawning seems to be similar to the arousal rate of caffeine. A study by Barry et al.[8] examined that the effect of the single oral dose of caffeine on the resting state resulted in an increase in the skin conductance levels and frequency of alpha waves of the electroencephalogram. These results were found to be similar to those obtained in yawning subjects. Thus, yawning and caffeine both play a role in stimulating the nervous system and the arousal reflexes of the brain.

Moreover, yawning cools down the brain when its temperature increases. According to an experiment of the pre-limbic cortical brain, the temperature was done monitoring rats, 3 minutes before yawning the cortical temperatures rose and significantly dropped after the next 3 minutes of yawning. Furthermore, the tearing from the eyes that you experience at the peak of yawning is due to the release of heat from the skull to the surrounding environment.

Lastly, contagious yawning is correlated with social empathy. The areas of brain activity when yawning are similar to the areas of the distributed neural network related to empathy and social behaviour. Experiments have found that older children aged 4-5 years and adults, who have a developed neural mechanism required to understand the mental states of others, support the empathetic basis of contagious yawning. This is why; contagious yawning is reduced in schizophrenic and autistic people who cannot understand social interactions.

Thus, it’s unfair to limit yawning to a mere act of boredom. It is worthwhile that exploration is done for further intriguing facts to be revealed.

Article by: Samadhi Mallawa Arachchi | Faculty of Arts (Department of Psychology)

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