Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

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.

LIVE EVENT | Radical innovation: Unlocking the future of human invention

Innovation in manufacturing has crawled since the 1950s. That's about to speed up.

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

AppleGoogleOffice 365OutlookOutlook.comYahoo


Keep reading Show less

Bubonic plague case reported in China

Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.

Vials Of Bacteria That May Cause Plague Missing From TX University

(Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/Getty Images)
Coronavirus
  • The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
  • Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
  • Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Keep reading Show less

Navy SEALs: How to build a warrior mindset

SEAL training is the ultimate test of both mental and physical strength.

Videos
  • The fact that U.S. Navy SEALs endure very rigorous training before entering the field is common knowledge, but just what happens at those facilities is less often discussed. In this video, former SEALs Brent Gleeson, David Goggins, and Eric Greitens (as well as authors Jesse Itzler and Jamie Wheal) talk about how the 18-month program is designed to build elite, disciplined operatives with immense mental toughness and resilience.
  • Wheal dives into the cutting-edge technology and science that the navy uses to prepare these individuals. Itzler shares his experience meeting and briefly living with Goggins (who was also an Army Ranger) and the things he learned about pushing past perceived limits.
  • Goggins dives into why you should leave your comfort zone, introduces the 40 percent rule, and explains why the biggest battle we all face is the one in our own minds. "Usually whatever's in front of you isn't as big as you make it out to be," says the SEAL turned motivational speaker. "We start to make these very small things enormous because we allow our minds to take control and go away from us. We have to regain control of our mind."
Keep reading Show less

New guidelines redefine 'obesity' to curb fat shaming

Is focusing solely on body mass index the best way for doctor to frame obesity?

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • New guidelines published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal argue that obesity should be defined as a condition that involves high body mass index along with a corresponding physical or mental health condition.
  • The guidelines note that classifying obesity by body mass index alone may lead to fat shaming or non-optimal treatments.
  • The guidelines offer five steps for reframing the way doctors treat obesity.
Keep reading Show less
Coronavirus

How COVID-19 will change the way we design our homes

Pandemic-inspired housing innovation will collide with techno-acceleration.

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast