In life, there are certain things we don’t have answers to like: why we die; why we snore; why we belch; why we are born; and why we yawn. Though medical science would always provide some answers, but it is always mere hypothesis. Here some studies tried to explain why we yawn.
According to Wikipedia, a yawn is a reflex consisting of the simultaneous inhalation of air and the stretching of the eardrums, followed by an exhalation of breath.
Yawning most often occurs in adults immediately before and after sleep, during tedious activities and as a result of its contagious quality. It is commonly associated with tiredness, stress, sleepiness, or even boredom and hunger, though studies show it may be linked to the cooling of the brain.
According to Dr. Andrew Igbafe, a Senior Consultant at Federal Medical Center, FMC, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State, there are several reasons for yawning as have been proposed by scholars, but there is little agreement about its main functions.
In humans, yawning is often triggered by others yawning (e.g., seeing a person yawning, talking to someone on the phone who is yawning) and is a typical example of positive feedback. This “contagious” yawning has also been observed in chimpanzees, dogs, and can occur across species.
In humans, the yawn contagion is shaped by social closeness, with closely bonded individuals showing a higher level of contagion than those of weakly bonded individuals. In a study involving gelada baboons, yawning was contagious between individuals, especially those that were socially close. This suggests that emotional proximity rather than spatial proximity is an indicator of yawn contagion.
Evidence for the occurrence of contagious yawning linked to empathy is rare outside of primates. It has been studied on canid species, such as the domestic dog and wolf. Domestic dogs have shown the ability to yawn contagiously. Domestic dogs have demonstrated they are skilled at reading human communication behaviours. This ability creates a challenge as to if the yawn contagion among domestic dogs is deeply rooted in their evolutionary history or as a result of domestication. In a 2014 study, wolves were observed in an effort to answer this question. The results of the study showed that wolves are capable of yawn contagion, which suggest that this ability is a common ancestral trait shared by other mammals. Also, in support of previous research, the social bond strength between individuals affected the frequency of contagious yawning. This suggests that wolves’ predisposition to yawn contagion relates to a level of emotional proximity.
Yawning has been observed among various primates. In these cases the yawn is a threat gesture, a way of maintaining order in the primates’ social structure. Specific studies were conducted on chimpanzees and stumptail macaques. A group of these animals was shown a video of other conspecifics yawning; both species yawned as well. This helps to partly confirm a yawn’s “contagiousness”.
Researchers are starting to unravel the mystery surrounding the yawn, one of the most common and often embarrassing behaviors. Yawning, they have discovered, is much more complicated than previously thought. Although all yawns look the same, they appear to have many different causes and to serve a variety of functions.
Yawning is believed to be a means to keep our brains alert in times of stress. Contagious yawning appears to have evolved in many animal species as a way to protect family and friends, by keeping everyone in the group vigilant. Changes in brain chemistry trigger yawns, which typically last about six seconds and often occur in clusters. “What this tells us is it’s a very complicated system, and there are probably many different roles for yawning,” he said.
Stress and anxiety also cause our brains to get hotter, and yawning helps it cool and function at maximum efficiency, this could explain why certain people who wouldn’t be expected to yawn, like parachutists about to jump out of a plane or a person about to make a public speech, have been observed to yawn frequently, he said.
Nengi opined that, “the relationship the researchers say exists between being warm (thereby having a brain that is hotter than the norm) and yawning makes sense. However, some of the other relationships suggested are not convincing at this point. Group actions, particularly, are extraordinarily complex.”
In their separate submissions, Kema submitted that, “at the end of the day it is people not getting enough sleep who yawn the most. Try to stay awake all night tonight and find out how many times you yawn the next day. All this is bogus research. Brain temp going up making us yawn, true and brain team goes up when people have not gotten 6-7 hours of sleep. Putting electrodes to measure human body when it is yawning does not tell us anything about when and why the human body goes up. I yawn when I have not slept at least 5 hours the night before.”
Ikio said that, “many athletes yawn prior to their competitive event (stress), but few ever yawn after they compete. They sweat profusely, reflecting an elevated body temperature, but don’t yawn. The “elevated brain temperature” hypothesis rings false.
Although studies show we yawn more when tired, it isn’t clear why. He points out to brain temperature, which is highest at night. Dr. Igbafe said yawning may usher a change of states, such as from sleeping to waking, though the physiological details are still being worked out.
There are some practical applications. Dr. Igbafe said managers might want to keep in mind the brain-cooling role of yawning when a meeting is long and boring. “One way to diminish yawning frequency in an office would be to keep it air-conditioned. If it’s very cold in the room, yawning rates are going to be quite low,” he said.

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