4.6( 8864)

What makes us yawn?

Next time you're in a meeting, try this little experiment: Take a big yawn, cover your mouth out of courtesy, and watch and see how many people yawn. There's a good chance that you'll set off a chain reaction of yawns. Before you finish reading this question of the day, it's likely that you will yawn at least once. Don't misunderstand, not intending to bore you, but just reading about yawning will make you yawn, just as seeing or hearing someone else yawn makes us yawn.

What's behind this mysterious epidemic of yawning? First, let's look at what a yawn is. Yawning is an involuntary action that causes us to open our mouths wide and breathe in deeply. We know it's involuntary because we do it even before we are born. Research shows that 11-week-old fetuses yawn.

There are many parts of the body that are in action when you yawn. First, your mouth opens and jaw drops, allowing as much air to be taken in as possible. When you inhale, the air taken in is filling your lungs. Your abdominal muscles flex and your diaphragm is pushed down. The air you breath in expands the lungs to capacity and then some of the air is blown back out.

While the dictionary tells us that yawning is caused by being fatigued, drowsy or bored, scientists are discovering that there is more to yawning than what most people think. Not much is known about why we yawn or if it serves any useful function, and very little research has been done on the subject. However, there are several theories about why we yawn. Here are the three most common theories:

The Physiological Theory -- Our bodies induce yawning to drawn in more oxygen or remove a build-up of carbon dioxide. This theory helps explain why we yawn in groups. Larger groups produce more carbon dioxide, which means our bodies would act to draw in more oxygen and get rid of the excess carbon dioxide. However, if our bodies make us yawn to drawn in needed oxygen, wouldn't we yawn during exercise? Robert Provine, a psychologist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a leading expert on yawning, has tested this theory. Giving people additional oxygen didn't decrease yawning and decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in a subject's environment also didn't prevent yawning.

The Evolution Theory -- Some think that yawning is something that began with our ancestors, who used yawning to show their teeth and intimidate others. An offshoot of this theory is the idea that yawning developed from early man as a signal for us to change activities.

The Boredom Theory -- In the dictionary, yawning is said to be caused by boredom, fatigue or drowsiness. Although we do tend to yawn when bored or tired, this theory doesn't explain why Olympic athletes yawn right before they compete in their event. It's doubtful that they are bored with the world watching them.

The simple truth is that even though humans have been yawning for possibly as long as they have existed, we have no clue as to why we do it. Maybe it serves some healthful purpose. It does cause us to draw in more air and our hearts to race faster than normal, but so does exercise. There's still much we don't understand about our own brains, so maybe yawning is triggered by some area of the brain we have yet to discover. We do know that yawning is not limited to man. Cats, dogs, even fish yawn, which leads us back to the idea that yawning is some form of communication.

No comments