Biology Faculty Articles

Title

A thermal window for yawning in humans: yawning as a brain cooling mechanism

Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1-1-2014

Publication Title

Physiology and Behavior

ISSN

0031-9384

Volume

130

First Page

145

Last Page

148

Abstract

The thermoregulatory theory of yawning posits that yawns function to cool the brain in part due to counter-current heat exchange with the deep inhalation of ambient air. Consequently, yawning should be constrained to an optimal thermal zone or range of temperature, i.e., a thermal window, in which we should expect a lower frequency at extreme temperatures. Previous research shows that yawn frequency diminishes as ambient temperatures rise and approach body temperature, but a lower bound to the thermal window has not been demonstrated. To test this, a total of 120 pedestrians were sampled for susceptibly to self-reported yawn contagion during distinct temperature ranges and seasons (winter: 1.4°C, n=60; summer: 19.4°C, n=60). As predicted, the proportion of pedestrians reporting yawning was significantly lower during winter than in summer (18.3% vs. 41.7%), with temperature being the only significant predictor of these differences across seasons. The underlying mechanism for yawning in humans, both spontaneous and contagious, appears to be involved in brain thermoregulation.

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