Scientists Reveal Importance of Yawning for Species' Survival
The physical effects of the phenomenon have long been studied by scientists, but its social implications - especially that of contagious yawning - are yet to be researched in full.
Yawning might be more than an animal or human organism trying to regulate its brain's temperature or raise awareness, a recent research has suggested.
It might also be an evolutionary mechanism developed by various vertebrate species to maintain group alertness, evolutionary biologist at SUNY Polytechnic Institute in New York Andrew Gallup has concluded after reviewing dozens of research papers on the possible social aspects of the phenomenon.
The process of yawning itself is an unintentional physical reflex. However, some animals have apparently adapted to interpret is as a tell-tale sign that something is happening to their brethren - that it either changes states, such as falling asleep or waking up, its brain temperature is rising, or that it experiences stress or reduced brain arousal - simply speaking that it is tired.
The yawn is triggered in an attempt to regulate the organism's physical state and return it to homeostasis. But, for other representatives of the same species, at least for those living and acting in groups, it’s a sign that their fellow is tired and not alert to possible danger. They thus become more alert themselves, thus making the group more prepared to react to potential dangers, Gallup suggested in his research.
3 December 2021, 18:50 GMT
When it comes to contagious yawning, scientists believe that mirror neurons are involved - special brain cells that react to observed actions from others. When it comes to social meaning, Gallup alleged that contagious yawning, when other members of the group start yawning after seeing another member of their and even different species do the same, increases motor synchrony and can happen if observing animal's bodies also require a certain degree of regulation to achieve homeostasis.
The contagious yawning also should increase the overall group's alertness as is the case when there is now contagion, Gallup added.
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