Yawning is contagious and occurs not only in the evening hours. So why has nature endowed us with the seemingly useless ability to yawn?
According to some researchers, people tend to yawn about eight times a day. This number increases if we are in the company of other “yawners”, or if you have been looking at photos of yawning cats and dogs for half a day.
By the way, have you yawned yet? Great, then let’s move on.
Watching someone yawn, or even just thinking about this action, often causes an involuntary facial reaction. People yawn with maximum frequency when they have just woken up and when they are tired, but in other cases, yawning slips for no apparent reason. So why do we yawn, and why does it seem contagious?
A study conducted in 2007 by psychology professor Andrew Gallup concluded that yawning probably serves to regulate body and brain temperature. When we open our mouth to yawn, our jaws stretch almost to the lowest position, increasing blood flow in the area, which is then cooled by rapid air intake. Gallup’s study showed that when the study participants were warm, the rate of yawning increased when viewing images of other people yawning. But when participants were in a cooler environment or applied cold ice packs to their foreheads, the frequency of yawning was noticeably lower. At the end of a long, tiring day full of brain activity, yawning serves as a cooling liquid for the exhausted brain.
It is believed that the contagious nature of yawning stems from empathy or an innate awareness that if someone else needs to cool the brain, then so do you. There are also theories that yawning acts as an alert mechanism, indicating that a person in a group may be in danger or at least tired. Yawning may also just be the body’s way of warning others that the current environment is simply not suitable due to boredom.