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| Human World on Jul 21, 2008

Robert Provine on why we yawn

Even before birth – and throughout life – all animals yawn. But scientists are still unclear about why. Robert Provine, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, has studied yawning for over 30 years.

A student from the Caribbean island of Bonaire had a question for scientists about something all animals do.

Ziran Chin-On: Why do people yawn?

For an answer, EarthSky asked a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He’s studied yawning for over 30 years – but says why we yawn is still something of a mystery. Here’s Dr. Robert Provine.

Robert Provine: Yawning is a curious behavior because on one level, you can say that we don’t really understand why we do it. So throughout our life, even before birth, we start yawning. And it’s unclear about why we produce this act.

Provine said you might yawn because you’re tired, anxious, or bored.

Robert Provine: What all of these things have in common is a change in state. We’re changing from one kind of mood, one kind of exercise level to another. Yawning may help us through these states by stirring up our physiology.

Yawning is also highly contagious – which makes it even more interesting to neuroscientists.

Robert Provine: It gives us insight about how the brain links people together in social patterns.

Scientists at the University of Albany have also suggested that yawning may cool down our brains. Thanks to Ziran Chin-On and Dr. Robert Provine.

Our thanks to the Monsanto Fund, bridging the gap between people and their resources.

Our thanks to:
Robert Provine
University of Maryland
Baltimore, MD