How Yawning Is Linked to Having a Bigger Brain

Scientists find a surprising relationship between yawning and brain size.

Yawning is one of the great mysteries of life. You see someone yawn, and you feel like yawning yourself. You get tired, you yawn, presumably because you need more oxygen in the brain. You are bored by an Internet article, you yawn (and click away). But what really is yawning? There hasn’t been a very conclusive answer yet, but scientists have found a surprising link between the length of a yawn and the size of the brain


Scientists from the State University of New York came to this realization by first considering such animals as gorillas and elephants - they are bigger than us and yet have smaller brains relative to their body size, if we take into account the brain-to-body mass ratio. And interestingly, they all yawn for shorter times than humans. Researchers hypothesized that brain size (rather than body size) is linked to the yawn length.

"Importantly, neither the size of the body nor the anatomical structures specific to yawning (cranium and mandible) are driving these effects, because gorillas, camels, horses, lions, walruses, and African elephants all have shorter average yawns than humans," report the researchers in their paper.

How did the scientists come to such a conclusion? They scanned YouTube videos of yawning animals, studying 205 yawns from 177 individual animals of different species. 

Mice yawned the shortest, about 0.8 seconds on average. Humans, of course, had the longest yawns, averaging 6.5 seconds. Who was second? Camels. So there’s that.

By trying out different correlations, the only one the scientists managed to make stick was that brain size and yawning were related. 

This actually fits in well with a theory previously proposed by psychologist Andrew Gallup, one of the researchers in the study, that the purpose of yawning may be to cool the brain. If you (as an animal) did have a larger brain, it makes sense that it would take longer to cool it (by yawning).

Gallup has some data to prove his idea. He implanted temperature probes in rats brains and showed that yawning does, in fact, seem to cool their brains. Another experiment he performed showed that people who hold something cooling like a cold pack to their heads, are less likely to start yawning (even if others are yawning away).

Ok, this probably doesn’t mean that if you yawn longer than your neighbor in class, you are actually more intelligent. More studies need to be done to pinpoint conclusions further. 

You can read the paper “Yawn duration predicts brain weight and cortical neuron number in mammals here.

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
Keep reading Show less
Sponsored

22 months of war - condensed in a 1-minute video

No, the Syrian civil war is not over. But it might be soon. Time for a recap

Strange Maps
  • The War in Syria has dropped off the radar, but it's not over (yet)
  • This 1-minute video shows how the fronts have moved – and stabilised – over the past 22 months
  • Watching this video may leave you both better informed, and slightly queasy: does war need a generic rock soundtrack?
Keep reading Show less

Bespoke suicide pods now available for death in style

Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.

The Sarco assisted suicide pod
Technology & Innovation

Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco! 

Keep reading Show less

How to bring more confidence to your conversations

Entrepreneur and author Andrew Horn shares his rules for becoming an assured conversationalist.

content.jwplatform.com
Videos
  • To avoid basing action on external validation, you need to find your "authentic voice" and use it.
  • Finding your voice requires asking the right questions of yourself.
  • There are 3-5 questions that you would generally want to ask people you are talking to.
Keep reading Show less