No, you’re not bored. You’re just human.


Oren Smith

Senior Andrew Davis illustrates yawning during class. Scientists have linked yawning to multiple stimuli such as tiredness, empathy, an overheating brain and temperature.

Story by Charli Hueter , staff writer

When you looked at the image, did you involuntarily feel the urge to yawn? If not, perhaps the notion just now was enough to spur oscitation, the involuntary act of yawning. Don’t try to stop. This will only increase the urge. I have yawned at least twice just writing this article, and usually I am not so susceptible. However, as much as you may feel immune to the enigmatic nature of echophenomena, imitative actions without complete awareness, your brain is what truly governs whether or not you can voluntarily resist psychological cues. So why can’t you just ignore the temptation?

Most people assume that yawning is directly correlated to how much you sleep, but neuroscience claims that it can often mean much more than this. According to Steven Platek, a cognitive researcher at Georgia Gwinnett College, yawning may be associated with empathy, our ability to share and emotionally understand one another.

Neurons in our brain, suitably deemed mirror neurons, fire in response to an observed action. This system of mirror-like behavior is prevalent in child development and primate studies and threads a curious needle between social bondage and the fabric of psychology.

Following this train of thought, our minds appear to be hardwired puppeteers behind some sort of cruel joke. During an important presentation, the last thing you would want to see is a yawning audience. It would be insulting despite the truth of the matter: it’s just human nature.

In fact, for those that don’t yawn, this may be a sign that they lack elements of empathy with their peers.

— Charli Hueter

Lucky for you, empathy isn’t the only reason you may or may not get caught in a yawn. If you were thinking that breathing too little would be on the list of instigators, studies have actually shown that increasing oxygen inhalation does not reduce yawning levels. Once again, we need to take a closer look at our brains. Similar to computer processors, they can overheat when overworked or stressed. Room temperature has just as much effect on our inner-ear atmosphere. When this temperature considerably heightens, homeostasis prompts us to stretch our jaw in order to encourage the flow of blood’s cooling effect on the brain.

Next time you feel the urge to initiate a yawn fest, keep in mind the social implications you will unveil. One person’s yawn might be another person’s admission of empathy. The room might be warmer than usual, or your brain may be overheating from that pesky exam you took in chemistry. Either way, this form of imitation behavior offers a bizarre window into the world of neuroscience and psychology surrounding you. Therefore, if your dog really loves you, he may just yawn back.