Unraveling the Mystery of Yawning: The Biological Reason

In summary: Yawning can be considered a way to show that someone is tired and needs some rest. It is also a way to get the attention of those around you. For those athletes before a competition, yawning may be a way to conserve energy.
  • #1
misskitty
737
0
Evening everyone,

This is a rather odd question: why do we yawn? Is there any biological reason for it? Why do we yawn when we see other people yawn or think about it?

Oh, just typing this post is making me yawn! :zzz:
 
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  • #2
Isn't anyone going to try to answer? How about speculate?
 
  • #3
The theories I have heard relate to either flushing carbon dioxide out of the lungs (although any deep breath will do this), or exercising the jaw muscles. I also read one theory that the yawn has only a social function, to alert others of our mental state.

No one knows why yawning is contagious, but, indeed, seeing others yawn or even thinking about yawning makes one more likely to yawn. My own personal theory on the topic (PF posting guidelines be damned!) is that a population is safer and more productive when its members are following the same sleep-wake schedule. Yawning helps keeps members of a population (wild dogs in a pack, say) on the same schedule, so they can work better as a team.

- Warren
 
  • #4
Try this page for more info.
 
  • #5
When in doubt...google. Here are three theories that could explain yawning.
http://science.howstuffworks.com/question572.htm
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.

I've heard of the physiological theory. It makes the most sense to me. I notice they don't mention anything about increasing the carbon dioxide levels in their experiments. Yawning expands the lungs and increases heart rate accelerating the body's oxygen level in the blood and clearing the lungs of CO2. There is no need to yawn when excercising because there is already good exchange of O2 and CO2. I notice that I yawn when my breathing is shallow and maybe I just need a good breath. The contagious aspect may be psychological.

Free divers have a similar procedure for clearing the lungs and oxygenating the blood. They don't yawn but it looks like several deep yawns performed very quickly. It increases O2 in their blood and expands their lungs to the maximum. They also learn techniques to influence their heart rates to conserve O2.

Enough speculation?
 
  • #6
Yeah, I would say relaxing the jaw muscles and the carbon dioxide thing would be the foremost reasons. Also, as was said before with the wolf thing, systems are more efficient when neighbors pay attention and copy each other. Another reason I have not seen mentioned, which may be incorrect but I will try to take a stab at it anyway, is to build rapport. Ever notice when you are in a classroom and all is quiet for a few minutes and a person coughs and a few seconds later another person coughs (its kind of creepy when you hear it in action)?

Correct me if I'm wrong, a lot of things I said were mere speculations.
 
  • #7
That is plenty of good speculation. Thanks Huck. :biggrin: It is kind of creepy when you hear that in a classroom KC. I agree Warren. People who run on the same schedule do seem to work better as a team. Granted this is not true for every case. But that applies to just about everything.
 

Related to Unraveling the Mystery of Yawning: The Biological Reason

What is the purpose of yawning?

Yawning is a reflex that involves opening the mouth wide and inhaling deeply, followed by a slow exhalation. Its primary purpose is to increase the oxygen intake and help regulate carbon dioxide levels in the body.

Why do we yawn when we see others yawn?

Yawning is a contagious behavior, meaning that seeing someone yawn can trigger a yawn response in ourselves. This is thought to be a way for humans to synchronize their sleep patterns and maintain group alertness.

Is yawning a sign of boredom or tiredness?

While yawning is often associated with being bored or tired, research has shown that it can also occur due to other factors such as stress, anxiety, or changes in brain temperature. So, yawning may not always be a reliable indicator of boredom or tiredness.

Do animals yawn?

Yes, animals also yawn. In fact, most mammals and some birds exhibit this behavior. This suggests that yawning may have an evolutionary purpose and may serve a common physiological function in all vertebrates.

Can yawning be controlled?

While yawning is mostly an involuntary reflex, some people are able to suppress or control their yawns. However, this may not always be possible as yawning can also be triggered by certain stimuli, such as seeing others yawn or feeling tired.

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