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Why Do We Yawn?

Why Do We Yawn?

All You Wanted to Know about Yawning

Where did the word Yawn come from?

The word “yawn” comes from the Old English word “gionian,” which meant “to open the mouth wide, gape.” This word is related to the Old Norse word “gina,” which also meant “to yawn.” The word “yawn” has been used in English since at least the 14th century to describe the act of opening one’s mouth wide when tired or bored. Over time, the word has also been used to describe similar actions in animals, such as when a lion yawns before roaring. Today, the word “yawn” is widely used in English to refer to the act of opening one’s mouth wide and inhaling deeply, often as a sign of tiredness or boredom.

What is Yawning?

Yawning is a natural and common phenomenon that occurs in humans and many other animals. When we yawn, we involuntarily open our mouth wide, inhale deeply, and exhale audibly. The exact function of yawning is not fully understood, but there are several theories about why we yawn.

One theory is that yawning helps to regulate the temperature of the brain. When we inhale deeply during a yawn, cool air enters our nasal passages and then travels to the brain, which helps to cool down the brain. This may explain why we tend to yawn more frequently when we’re tired or sleepy, as our brain temperature tends to increase in those states.

Another theory is that yawning is a way to increase oxygen intake and promote alertness. When we yawn, we take in a large amount of air, which increases our oxygen levels and can help to increase our level of alertness.

Yawning is also known to be contagious. When we see someone else yawn, we often feel the urge to yawn as well. This is known as contagious yawning, and it is thought to be related to empathy and social bonding. Contagious yawning has been observed in many different animal species, including primates, dogs, and even birds.

Overall, yawning is a complex phenomenon that likely has multiple functions and is influenced by various physiological and psychological factors. While much research has been conducted on yawning, there is still much to learn about this mysterious behavior.


Who Yawns?

Yawning is observed in many animal species, not just humans. Some animals that are known to yawn include:

  1. Primates – chimpanzees, baboons, and gorillas have been observed yawning
  2. Dogs – it is common for dogs to yawn, especially when they are tired or stressed
  3. Cats – cats also yawn, although not as frequently as dogs
  4. Birds – some birds, such as parrots, have been observed yawning
  5. Reptiles – some reptiles, such as snakes, have been observed yawning
  6. Fish – some fish, such as goldfish, have been observed yawning

It’s worth noting that the exact function of yawning in different animal species may differ, and more research is needed to fully understand the role of yawning in different animals.

Can You Make People Yawn?

if you’re looking to make someone yawn, you might try yawning in front of them, or showing them a video of someone else yawning. It’s worth noting that not everyone is susceptible to contagious yawning, and factors like age, empathy, and social connection may influence whether someone is more or less likely to yawn in response to seeing someone else yawn.

Do Women Yawn More than Men?

There is no clear consensus on whether women yawn more than men or vice versa. Some studies have found that women may yawn slightly more often than men, while others have found no significant difference between the sexes. It is worth noting, however, that there are many factors that can influence yawning, including age, activity level, time of day, and other individual differences, so it is difficult to make generalizations about yawning based solely on gender. Overall, yawning is a complex behavior that is not fully understood, and there is still much research to be done to fully understand its causes and functions.

Who Has the Loudest Yawn?

It’s difficult to determine which animal has the loudest yawn as there are many factors that can affect the loudness of a yawn, such as the size and shape of the animal’s respiratory system, the strength of the muscles used to yawn, and the distance between the animal and the person or equipment measuring the sound.

However, some animals, such as lions and tigers, are known for their powerful roars, which may be accompanied by a yawn-like opening of the mouth. These big cats have a powerful respiratory system and strong muscles that allow them to produce loud vocalizations. So, it’s possible that their yawns may also be relatively loud compared to other animals.

Why do we yawn when we are bored?

Yawning has been linked to a variety of physiological and psychological factors, and one of the theories about why we yawn when we’re bored is related to our level of arousal and attention. When we’re bored, our level of arousal and attention tends to decrease, which can lead to a decrease in our heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature. Yawning may help to counteract these effects by increasing our heart rate, breathing rate, and oxygen levels, which can help to boost our level of alertness and arousal.

Famous Yawns in Film

Yawning is a natural behavior that people do every day, and it’s not uncommon for movies to feature characters yawning. Here are a few famous yawns in movies:

  1. The Godfather (1972) – In the opening scene of this iconic movie, the character of Bonasera yawns during his conversation with Vito Corleone.

  2. The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – In one scene, Red (played by Morgan Freeman) yawns during a group therapy session at the prison.

  3. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) – In a scene where the hobbits are preparing to leave the Shire, Frodo (played by Elijah Wood) lets out a big yawn as he stretches.

  4. Forrest Gump (1994) – In one scene, Forrest Gump (played by Tom Hanks) yawns during a conversation with Lt. Dan (played by Gary Sinise).

  5. The Matrix (1999) – In a scene where Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) meets Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne), Neo yawns as he tries to stay awake during Morpheus’ explanation of the Matrix.

These are just a few examples, but there are countless other movies where characters yawn throughout the film.

The Most Recognized Yawn in the World?

There is one particular yawn that has gained some notoriety in popular culture, and that is the “lion yawn” – a deep, wide-open mouthed yawn often seen in lions and other big cats. This yawn is often accompanied by a roar, and has been featured in numerous documentaries and nature programs, as well as in artwork and popular culture. The lion yawn has become something of a symbol of strength and power, and is often associated with the majestic and awe-inspiring qualities of big cats.

The MGM lion, not a cat, is a well-known symbol that appears at the beginning of many movies produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) studios. The lion yawns during the logo sequence, which has become an iconic moment in movie history. While there have been several lions used as the MGM mascot over the years, the most famous is likely the one that appeared in the logo from 1957 to 1960 – a lion named “Telly” who was known for his distinctive roar and majestic appearance. Telly’s yawn in the MGM logo has become a well-known and beloved movie moment, and has been parodied and referenced in various films and TV shows over the years.

avocado dog bed

Why Do Dogs Yawn?

There are several reasons why dogs yawn, and it’s not always as simple as us being tired or bored! Here are some of the most common explanations:

Physiological reasons:

  • Alertness: Similar to humans, dogs sometimes yawn when transitioning from one state to another, like waking up or becoming more alert. This could be a way to increase oxygen intake and cool down the brain.
  • Boredom: If your dog seems uninterested in their surroundings or doesn’t have much stimulation, yawning could be a sign of boredom.

Emotional and social reasons:

  • Stress: This is a big one! Dogs often yawn when feeling anxious, nervous, or uncomfortable. For example, they might yawn during a vet visit, when meeting a new dog, or during a loud argument. It’s a way to self-soothe and de-escalate the situation.
  • Empathy: Believe it or not, dogs might be picking up on your emotions! Studies have shown that dogs can “catch” yawns from their owners, just like humans. This suggests they might have some level of empathy and understand your emotional state.
  • Calming signal: Similar to other calming signals like licking their lips or looking away, yawning can be a way for dogs to communicate they feel unsure or want to avoid conflict.

Understanding the context is key:

To truly understand why your dog is yawning, pay attention to the situation and their overall body language. Is their tail wagging or tucked? Are their ears perked up or flat? Are they making eye contact or looking away? By considering these factors, you can better decipher the meaning behind their yawns.

There’s a good chance your dog will yawn if you yawn, but it’s not guaranteed. Here’s what we know about contagious yawning in dogs:

Evidence suggests:

  • Dogs can catch yawns from their owners and other familiar humans. Studies have shown this “contagious yawning” phenomenon occurs more frequently than chance.
  • Dogs are more likely to yawn after seeing their owners yawn than strangers, suggesting an emotional connection plays a role.
  • The yawn contagion strength might be linked to the dog-human bond, with stronger bonds leading to more frequent yawning responses.

However, it’s not always a given:

  • Not all dogs are equally susceptible to contagious yawning. Individual differences in personality, age, and even breed might influence their response.
  • The context matters. If your dog is stressed, distracted, or engaged in another activity, they might not pay attention to your yawn or have the mental capacity to “catch” it.
  • Yawning in dogs can have other explanations besides empathy. Boredom, tiredness, or physiological needs can also trigger yawns.

So, will your dog yawn if you yawn? It depends! Observing their overall behavior and the situation can give you clues. A yawn after you yawn, especially if directed at you, might indicate empathy and a strong bond. But remember, other factors could be at play too.

Psychopath yawning

Psychopaths and Yawning

Research suggests that individuals with high levels of psychopathic traits are less likely to yawn contagiously compared to individuals with lower levels of these traits. Here’s what we know:

Studies have shown:

  • A negative correlation between scores on psychopathy measures and susceptibility to contagious yawning.
  • This means the higher someone scores on a psychopathy scale, the less likely they are to yawn in response to seeing someone else yawn.
  • This effect appears to be unrelated to factors like direct eye contact but may be linked to lower levels of empathy.

However, it’s important to remember:

  • These studies suggest a correlation, not causation. Just because someone scores high on a psychopathy scale, it doesn’t definitively mean they won’t yawn contagiously.
  • Psychopathy is a complex spectrum, and individuals with these traits can vary greatly in their expression. Yawning behavior may just be one piece of the puzzle.
  • More research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind the link between psychopathy and contagious yawning.

Yawning and Empathy

The link between yawning and empathy is a fascinating but complex topic with research suggesting there might be a connection, but not definitively proving it. Here’s what we know:

Evidence Suggesting a Link:

  • Contagious yawning: People often yawn after seeing others yawn, especially those they are close to or empathize with. This suggests a possible link between understanding another’s state and mimicking their behavior.
  • Empathy levels and contagious yawning: Some studies have found a correlation between higher levels of empathy and increased susceptibility to contagious yawning.
  • Brain regions involved: Both yawning and empathy involve similar brain regions, suggesting a potential shared neural basis.

Challenges and Counter-Evidence:

  • Alternative explanations: Yawning can serve other functions like increasing alertness or regulating brain temperature, which could explain contagious yawning without involving empathy.
  • Inconsistent findings: Not all studies have found a clear link between empathy and contagious yawning. Some populations with lower empathy, like individuals with autism spectrum disorder, still show contagious yawning.
  • Individual differences: People vary in their susceptibility to contagious yawning, possibly due to factors like personality, attention, and social context.

Current Understanding:

The research suggests a possible link between yawning and empathy, but it’s not conclusive. Contagious yawning may involve more than just empathy, and individual differences play a significant role. Further research is needed to fully understand the complex relationship between these two phenomena.

Here are some additional points to consider:

  • While some studies show a link between empathy and contagious yawning, this doesn’t necessarily mean someone who yawns contagiously is high in empathy, or vice versa.
  • Contagious yawning might be more about understanding another’s state in general, not necessarily feeling their emotions.
  • The link between yawning and empathy could be influenced by social factors like familiarity and bonding.

Autism and Yawning

Both autism and schizophrenia seem to affect yawning in different ways, though the research is still ongoing and evolving. Here’s what we know:


  • Reduced susceptibility to contagious yawning: Studies suggest individuals with autism are less likely to yawn when they see others yawn compared to neurotypical individuals. This might be related to differences in empathy, attention, or social processing.
  • Normal spontaneous yawning: However, people with autism still yawn on their own, indicating yawning serves other functions beyond empathy.
  • Individual differences: The degree of reduced susceptibility varies across the autism spectrum, with some individuals exhibiting contagious yawning similar to neurotypical people.


  • Mixed findings: Some studies suggest individuals with schizophrenia show reduced contagious yawning, while others haven’t found significant differences. The reasons for these inconsistencies are unclear and require further investigation.
  • Possible explanations: Reduced susceptibility could be linked to altered social cognition, attention issues, or specific symptoms like blunted affect.
  • Need for more research: More studies are needed to understand the link between schizophrenia and yawning definitively.

Important Notes:

  • Yawning is complex and influenced by various factors beyond empathy.
  • These findings on autism and schizophrenia represent average group trends and do not apply to every individual within these spectrum disorders.
  • It’s crucial to avoid generalizations and stereotypes based on yawning behavior alone.

Here are some additional resources:

yawning at dr

When to See a Doctor About Yawning

Yawning itself is a normal reflex and not necessarily a cause for concern. However, there are some situations where excessive yawning might warrant a conversation with your doctor. Here’s a breakdown:

When Yawning Might Be Normal:

  • Occasional Yawning: Yawning a few times throughout the day due to fatigue, boredom, or even lightheadedness is usually nothing to worry about.
  • Sudden Yawning: If you experience a sudden urge to yawn after seeing or hearing someone else yawn, this is likely contagious yawning, a normal social response.
  • Stress Yawning: Yawning can also be a way to manage stress or anxiety. If it happens occasionally and resolves when the stress passes, it’s not a major concern.

When to Talk to Your Doctor:

  • Excessive Yawning: If you’re yawning frequently and excessively, especially with no clear explanation, it could be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
  • Sudden Increase in Yawning: If you notice a sudden and dramatic increase in your yawning, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms like fatigue, daytime sleepiness, or difficulty concentrating, consult your doctor.
  • Yawning Along with Other Symptoms: If your yawning is accompanied by other concerning symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, or numbness, seek immediate medical attention. These could be signs of a serious condition.
  • Persistent Yawning After Addressing Common Causes: If you’ve addressed common causes like sleep deprivation, medication side effects, or stress but still experience excessive yawning, it’s best to talk to your doctor.

It’s important to remember:

  • This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you’re concerned about your yawning, schedule an appointment with your doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
  • They can help determine the cause of your excessive yawning and recommend appropriate interventions, whether it’s addressing sleep issues, adjusting medications, or investigating potential underlying health conditions.

Potential Causes of Excessive Yawning

here is a table of potential causes of excessive yawning:

Sleep disordersSleep apnea, Insomnia, Restless legs syndrome, Narcolepsy
Medical conditionsAnemia, Thyroid problems, Heart failure, Liver disease, Lung disease, Brain tumors
MedicationsAntidepressants, Antihistamines, Muscle relaxants, Sedatives, Blood pressure medications
Lifestyle factorsStress, Boredom, Lack of exercise, Dehydration, Caffeine intake, Alcohol consumption
OtherPregnancy, Vitamin deficiencies, Head injury

Yawning and Temperature

While the relationship between yawning and temperature is interesting, it’s not as straightforward as a clear-cut correlation. Here’s what we know:

Evidence for a link:

  • Studies on animals: Several studies suggest that some animals, like rats and parakeets, yawned more frequently at higher ambient temperatures.
  • Brain cooling theory: One theory proposes that yawning functions to increase blood flow to the head, potentially helping to cool down the brain, which might explain increased yawning in warmer environments.
  • Anecdotal observations: Many people report yawning more often when feeling hot or stuffy.

Challenges and counter-evidence:

  • Limited human studies: Studies on humans haven’t shown a consistent or strong correlation between temperature and yawning frequency.
  • Other factors influence yawning: Fatigue, boredom, and social cues can also trigger yawns, making it difficult to isolate the effect of temperature alone.
  • Yawning at high temperatures: Some studies suggest yawning actually decreases at extremely high temperatures, possibly due to competing physiological priorities.

Current understanding:

The link between yawning and temperature remains unclear and complex. While some evidence suggests a connection, particularly in animals and specific temperature ranges, it’s likely not the only factor influencing yawning behavior. More research is needed to fully understand this potential connection in humans.

Other Theories About Why We Yawn

Beyond the most frequently discussed theories like drowsiness, alertness, and empathy, several other interesting ideas try to explain why we yawn. Here’s a glimpse into some less mainstream theories:

1. Cooling the Brain: This theory suggests yawning increases blood flow to the head, bringing cooler blood from the body and flushing away metabolic heat buildup in the brain. This could explain yawning’s occurrence during mental exertion or boredom, where brain activity might increase heat production.

2. Ear Pressure Regulation: Studies show yawning can affect the middle ear, equalizing pressure and potentially relieving discomfort during rapid altitude changes or ear infections. While the exact mechanism is unclear, it suggests a possible “yawning for ear health” function.

3. Non-Verbal Communication: Some researchers propose yawning plays a role in social communication. It could signal tiredness, boredom, or a desire for group synchronization. Yawning contagiously might promote cohesion and empathy within a group.

4. Stretch and Stretch Reflex: Yawning involves stretching facial and jaw muscles, similar to other stretching behaviors. This could enhance alertness and muscle readiness, especially after periods of inactivity. The yawn itself might be a stretch reflex triggered by internal cues.

5. Attention and Information Processing: Some studies suggest yawning is linked to cognitive processes like filtering out irrelevant information and focusing on essential stimuli. It could be a way to clear the mind and prepare for renewed attention, explaining yawning during lectures or tedious tasks.

6. Evolutionary Advantage: Some theories propose yawning served an evolutionary purpose, like warning others of danger or signaling group cohesion. While the specific function remains debatable, this perspective suggests yawning might have deeper roots in our social and survival instincts.

It’s important to remember:

  • These theories are still under investigation, and none definitively explain why we yawn.
  • Each theory might contribute a piece to the puzzle, and multiple factors likely combine to trigger yawns in different situations.
  • Further research is needed to fully understand the complex function and evolution of yawning.

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