Everyone yawns. People, animals, amphibians, almost every living mammal. Cats, dogs, owls, lions, penguins, and even fish! They all yawn. It is also discovered that babies yawn in the womb. We all know what it looks like to yawn. As you stretch open your mouth wide, you inhale deeply and then exhale. Sometimes yawns can last for only a quick second, and other times they can last for quite a few seconds. We experience yawns most often when we are ready to go to bed at night but also in the mornings when we first wake up. A lot of times too, we yawn at random times during the day, because yawning in a sign of tiredness or boredom. When we yawn, the mechanism seems to help us regain some energy and wake us up a little. It is almost as if yawning is some kind of caffeine our body needs to keep us from falling asleep.
In fact, this is exactly why we yawn. Yawning is directly related to activity in the brain. The brain is known to take up a significant percent of our body’s energy, and since this happens, the brain tends to heat up more than any other organs in our body (Koren). So basically, when we yawn, as we inhale oxygen, the cool air goes through our nasal and oral cavities and that air changes the temperature of the blood flow therefore bringing cool air to our brains, cooling it down. This then causes us to feel some sort of relief that is sort of refreshing. And that is just what it is, refreshing. Kind of like cooling down with a glass of water after a nice, long run, except maybe not as refreshing!
I am sure that everyone has heard that yawning is contagious. It seems to have a domino affect. When one person yawns, someone else yawns, and then another person yawns, and so and so forth. I have actually experienced this multiple times. I don’t know what it is, but when someone else yawns, I just cannot help but yawn myself. But am I yawning because I have witnessed someone else yawn? Is it just a coincidence that we both yawned? Or am I actually really tired?
Since yawns happen to “cool down” our brains, it almost seems as if when we see other people yawn there is some sort of connection or energy that simulates between the two brains and resembles an alarm. It’s an alarm or reminder that tells our own brain that “it’s time to cool down”. Sand so, as a result of that, we yawn when we witness someone else yawn. However, sometimes it doesn’t even have to be a real person yawning. Even just seeing pictures of people or animals yawning, we yawn. I’m sure most of us have seen the pictures on Facebook of someone yawning and the caption reads, “I bet you’ll yawn looking at this picture”.
Actually, a psychology professor did a study on contagious yawning. In the study he found that people who experience contagious yawning actually do so as a result of being empathetic. The use of an fMRI scan showed that the same parts of the brain that are used to process emotions of ourselves and of others is activated during a contagious yawn (Koren). Therefore, when we watch someone yawn, we tend to subconsciously feel empathy towards that person and as a result, we yawn. So the rumors are true, yawns are contagious.
Koren, Marina. “Why Do We Yawn and Why Is It Contagious?” Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian, June 2013. Web. 10 Sept. 2016.