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The Contagious Yawners

One simple yawn and you get tagged as lazy. However, the science behind the simple yawn is not as easy.

Robert Provine, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, said that there is still no consensus about the purpose of the yawning process. Since the beginning of the 1980s, Provine has been studying what he called “yawn science,” and published dozens of research papers. The simplicity of yawnning is thus corrupted.

Several factors can prompt a yawn, such as sleepiness, boredom, hunger, stress, anxiety all contribute to a spontaneous yawning process. But what it strives to accomplish is not yet clear. One reason is to increase your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing functions by yawning.

But, that isn’t it. Apart from the spontaneous reasons for yawning, studies have found that the act of yawning can be contagious within mammals. They yawn in response to another’s yawn.

A contagious response is likely to arise even if we just look at someone yawning, hear about yawning, think of yawning or talk about yawning. In early humans, contagious yawns may have evolved to increase social connection. A good group yawn can also be an indication of raised attention to danger.

Another piece of evidence that backs up the social theory of yawning has found that a person is more likely to copy a yawn if he knows the person yawning. A stranger’s yawn is not that likely to trigger a contagious yawn. Also, yawning among toddlers is spontaneous. Until the age of 4 years old, they are less likely to engage in contagious yawning. It is also the time when they develop social cohesion.

New research has found that it is a common practice among lions. These yawns could convey meaningful social cues. Not only is yawning contagious among lions, but it appears that it also helps the predators in synchronising their movements.

Data revealed that attempting to resist yawning increases the desire to yawn and that people have an innate desire to yawn that is unaffected by instructions. Most importantly, the researchers discovered that electrically stimulating the left primary motor cortex increased the likelihood of yawning, indicating that this area of the brain may be crucial in contagious yawning.

So next time someone complains about your yawning, say that you yawn like a lion. 

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