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What makes us yawn ?

Everybody yawns — from unborn babies to the oldest great-grandparent. Yawning is an involuntary action that causes us to open our mouths wide and breathe in deeply. We know it’s involuntary because we do it even before we are born. Research shows that 11-week-old fetuses yawn. Yawn is a reflex of inhalation and exhalation that draws more oxygen in bloodstream.

– A long-standing theory behind yawning is that there was too much carbon dioxide and not enough oxygen in the blood. The brain stem was assumed to detect this and would trigger the yawn reflex. The mouth stretches wide and the lungs inhaled deeply, causing oxygen into the lungs and thence to the bloodstream. This is not certain however: a more recent theory is that it is a form of bodily temperature regulation.
– Yawns “seem to be caused by the same chemical compounds (neurotransmitters) in the brain that effect emotions, mood, appetite and more – serotonin, dopamine, glutamic acid and nitric oxide. The more of these compounds activated in the brain, the greater the frequency of yawns.
– Yawning is also 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.

No one knows for sure, but a study published in a recent issue of the journal Cognitive Brain Research theorizes that yawning in response to someone else’s yawn may be an empathetic response, similar to laughter. “A yawn can be triggered not only by seeing a person yawn but also by hearing, reading about, or even just thinking about yawns,” says Steven Platek, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, who directed the research. Platek and his colleagues believe that contagious yawning may be a primitive way of modeling our feelings after other people’s.
Between 40 and 60 percent of the population seems to find yawning contagious. Researchers at the State University of New York conducted a series of yawning experiments. They determined that being self-aware (the ability to recognize oneself) and having the ability to see things from someone else’s viewpoint means a person is more likely to find yawning contagious.

Interesting Yawning Facts :
* The average yawn lasts about six seconds.
* Your heart rate can rise as much as 30 percent during a yawn.
* 55 percent of people will yawn within five minutes of seeing someone else yawn.
* Blind people yawn more after hearing an audio tape of people yawning.
* Reading about yawning will make you yawn.
* Olympic athletes often yawn before competition.

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