Bournemouth University’s Simon Thompson recently wrote an article on the science of yawning for NewScientist Magazine.
The clinical psychology and neurology professor accessed some of the theories surrounding yawning – including its links to boredom and concentration.
Yawning, Dr Thompson says, has been said to “help us focus on a task” and might “explain why parachutists are encouraged to yawn before they leap”.
In 2007, thoughts that yawning was a mechanism to cool the brain emerged, and Thompson says that “this fits with [his] observations of people with multiple sclerosis, who often yawn a great deal when they are tired”.
“The temperature of the brain rises when we are fatigued, so it is possible that yawning is a mechanism to protect the game from overheating due to tiredness”, Thompson said.
There may also be a link between yawning and concentration, “yawning seems to raise cortisol levels… and in doing so protects the body by stimulating the production of adrenaline to make us more alert”; although Thompson also said that “this idea has not been tested”.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of yawning though is its infectiousness: “It’s possible that contagious yawning is something different, and might instead have a social purpose”, added Thompson, “I suspect that the social drivers of yawning can override the physiological ones…”
The article first appeared in NewScientist on December 20th, and is available online.