Why Are We Yawning?

Tiredness, boredom, hunger, stress: Yawning occurs in a variety of situations. What purpose this serves is still a mystery to science.

Did you already yawn? It is quite possible that the very first lines of this text stir up the urge to open one’s mouth wide and take a deep breath in and out. Yawning is so contagious that it can be triggered not only by his observation or the sound, but even by the reading of the word or the mere thought of it.

Risk of infection due to emotional proximity

However, the phenomenon can be observed even better in groups. If one begins to yawn, a large part of those present will soon follow.

Probably the contagious effect of yawning has something to do with empathy. Research shows that very compassionate people yawn faster than those who can’t empathize with others.


Yawning is also transmitted from humans to animals

A study by the University of Pisa has also shown that the emotional proximity to the yawning plays a crucial role in the contagious effect. Family members, friends and acquaintances are therefore much more likely to be infected than by strangers.

By the way: the yawn-urge even transfers from humans to animals. Studies show that dogs around yawning people also do it. Follow-up studies show that this effect is all the more pronounced when the animals know the people. Researchers see this as evidence that dogs also have empathy.

Even stress, boredom or hunger can be triggers

If someone yawns, others like to yawn, there’s no doubt about that. In addition to numerous scientific studies, our everyday experience proves this phenomenon. The question of why, on the other hand, is more difficult to answer: it is possible that the yawning serves to transmit mood and synchronize groups.

According to the motto: If everyone is more or less tired or awake at the same time, this serves social cohesion. However, this explanation from ethnology ignores the fact that we not only yawn when we are tired. Even stress, boredom or hunger are known triggers, cases of paratroopers are known who have to yawn before the jump. Even before important tests, some people open their mouths – with tiredness, both can hardly explain.

Many explanations, no answers

For decades, scientists have been tracking the reasons for yawning. This has led to a number of explanatory approaches, but there is still no conclusive answer. For a long time, for example, the oxygen hypothesis was popular, which today is often used as an explanation for yawning. It has long been refuted: Already in 1987, the US psychologist Robert Provine proved in an experiment that the oxygen supply has no influence on the frequency of yawning.

Similarly stubborn is the belief that yawning awakens. However, a study from Switzerland shows that brain activity before and after yawning has no difference. However, many researchers assume that yawning serves to keep you alert or to increase your attention. This thesis is supported by the observation that we often yawn in boring situations or in constant activities.

In addition, yawning also represents stretching and stretching. Increasing attention is the lowest common denominator, if you want to explain the biological purpose of yawning. This seems plausible: If yawning were actually used to increase attention, then it would make sense in both stressful and boring situations.

Does yawning cool the brain?

Another explanation assumes that yawning serves for thermoregulation in the brain. American psychologists showed in an animal experiment in 2010 that rats yawn when the temperature rose in their brain.

Yawning, she fell off again. On the basis of this hypothesis, the researchers set up investigations in humans: If the outside temperature was higher than the body temperature, the observed people yawned less frequently. In another study it was observed that in the summer more is yawned.

This explanatory approach also leaves many questions unanswered. Nevertheless, there are tips against the yawning that are based on him, for example: Whoever puts a cool washcloth on his forehead, is allegedly less easily infected by the yawning of others.

Yawning is not considered as important

Because yawning is hardly relevant to health, it has not been researched so well. After all, in June 2010, scientists from all over the world met for the first time in Paris for a Yawn congress and exchanged their research results there. So, something is happening in the research. But until the yawn is really deciphered, it will certainly take some time. Until then, it will just be an enigmatic and strange behavior.

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