Why do we yawn and why is it contagious?

There's little to beat a big yawn and a good stretch! Pixabay

THERE is nothing quite as satisfying as a good stretch, particularly if it’s accompanied by a wide yawn.
And often, that one yawn is enough to trigger a chain reaction in almost everyone in the immediate vicinity.
So what exactly is a yawn, and why does it spread so quickly?
According to an article written by  Marina Koren and published on the Smithsonianmag.com website,  a yawn is the ‘stretching of the jaw, gaping of the mouth, a deep inhalation and a long sigh’ and is commonplace throughout the animal kingdom.
And although we have all see the family dog indulge in the occasional yawn and scratch, it may surprise you to hear that even fish and snakes reportedly enjoy the pleasure!


YawningInterestingly, the article points out that even though the phenomenon is so widespread, science is still struggling to fathom out why it happens, and why it is so contagious in social mammals.


One theory is that it is nature’s way of boosting our oxygen intake to help keep us awake and alert, while another popular belief is that it may function as a thermostat, controlling body temperature.
A third possibility put forward suggests it dates back to when humans travelled long distances in groups and the yawn was to indicate to to everyone that it was perhaps time to stop and sleep.


Research has shown that between 60 and 70 percent of people find yawning contagious, and the reason for this is probably empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
As we spontaneously return a smile, so our subconscious seeks to imitate the action of yawning.


Interestingly, even the word ‘yawn’ is contagious to some, and merely repeating the word or reading about someone yawning is enough to trigger a corresponding yawn.
For more on yawning, read the original Smithsonian article HERE


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