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Psychological properties of ya

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Psychological properties of ya

Beyond Boredom:

Studies on the physical and psychological properties of yawning

The act of yawning has been observed in all vertebrates, and occurs in humans as early as minutes after birth, so it must have some definitive physiological purpose. Until recently, most scientists believed yawning was a respiratory function, triggered by a surplus of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream. In the past decade, however, studies have suggested that yawning acts as a mediator of activity and arousal levels. The evaluation that follows will examine three such studies and the evidence they contribute to this hypothesis.

The first study (1) examined the connection between yawning and activity on a physical level. Previous research had drawn loose ties between arousal and yawning; for example, one study showed that yawning in rats increased with the presence of a penile erection. To show that arousal increases with the onset of a yawn, the authors of this study designed a correlational experiment to measure changes in physical indicators of arousal before, during, and after yawning. They predicted that signs of arousal would increase when the yawn started.

A mixed-gender group of 30 college students participated in three 15-minute laboratory trials which measured skin conductance and heart rate, two physical correlates of arousal. In each trial, subjects pressed a button when they felt a yawn coming on, and equipment in a nearby room took readings from sensors attached to their fingertips. The first trial measured skin conductance, the second trial measured heart rate, and the third trial used an electromyogram with electrodes attached to the subjects? masseter muscles to verify that they were yawning when they said they were. Each subject was alone in a room for the course of all three trials. In addition, a control group of 20 students were tested for skin conductance and heart rate while intentionally performing different physical aspects of yawning, such as opening the mouth wide and taking deep breaths. All results were analyzed using a Friedman ANOVA test.

The results of the experiment partailly concur with the authors? prediction. In the experimental group, it was found that skin conductance values during and after the first yawn were significantly higher than before the yawn. For each subsequent yawn, the difference between pre-yawn and post-yawn values decreased. In other words, once the skin conductance values rose with the initial yawn, they remained consistently high through the rest of the trial. However, no significant change in heart rate was measured during the subjects? initial yawns, and no effects became apparent with successive yawns. Interestingly enough, the control group provided very similar data. The results showed that during both the opening-mouth and deep breathing trials, control subjects experienced an initial increase in skin conductance with the first yawnlike action that remained high through the rest of the trial. Also in agreement with the experimental data, the control subjects? heart rate was not significantly affected by either of these actions. The results show that both yawning and two of its major physical components (opening the mouth and taking a deep breath) cause an increase in skin conductance, which indicates an increase in arousal.

The authors of this study did not provide a detailed analysis of the results or of the experiment's possible flaws. They imply that the results agree with earlier research on the subject, such as the rat experiment previously mentioned. However, previous research suggested that yawning increased because of arousal; this study implies that arousal increases because of yawning. Furthermore, it is reasonable to question whether the testing methods of this experiment may have had an effect on the results. The study was conducted in a lab, and subjects were adorned with sensors and electrodes, creating an unnatural setting which may have made the subjects anxious (and consequently increased arousal levels).

Even though the study described above may have its imperfections, it is not completely useless in furthering our knowledge of why people yawn. It provides evidence from the physiological side of psychology to support a broad hypothesis that requires both biological and psychological evaluation. While the authors of the preceding study looked at the question of why organisms yawn strictly in physical terms, the authors of the second study examined the issue cognitively.

Based upon physical evidence from studies such as the one above, the authors of the second study (2) reasoned that yawning may be a mechanism to increase arousal when the environment does not provide adequate stimulation, but where arousal is desired or necessary. A self-report study was performed to show the correlation between stimulation in the environment and frequency of yawning. They predicted that the frequency of yawning would be high in situations where there is little stimulation and lower when more stimulation was present.

Daily journals of activities and yawns were kept by 28 college students (25 female and 3 male) for one week. Each time they yawned, the subjects recorded the time of day and the activity in which they were engaged. In addition, they kept track of what time they awoke and went to sleep. It should be noted that, while this self-reporting method may not seem reliable because of its subjective nature, previous studies have shown that such procedures are valid.

Three trends appeared in the data collected from the journals. First, there appeared to be no relationship between the number of yawns per day and the amount of sleep the subjects had the previous night. Second, the activities in which subjects were engaged when they had the highest yawning frequency tended to be more monotonous and less stimulating than those in which subjects yawned less. For instance, subjects yawned most when sitting in class (21% of all yawns), driving (16%), and watching TV (13%). Activities that produced a lower frequency of yawning, on the other hand, were cooking, cleaning, having a conversation, and thinking. The third observation from the data was that yawns were not evenly distributed during the subjects? days'they were most frequent during the first hour after waking and the hour immediately before going to sleep.

Several conclusions can be drawn from these results that support and elaborate upon the authors? hypothesis. As predicted, tasks that are ?boring? and have little social interaction make subjects more prone to yawning. Contrary to their nature, though, these tasks often require one to pay close attention. As the authors suggested, yawning may be a mechanism to induce arousal when attentiveness is necessary and the environment lacks stimulation. The fact that yawning frequency is highest in the hour after awaking and the hour before going to bed provides further support for this theory. For example, since subjects are naturally becoming sleepy in the hour before retiring (thus causing the arousal level to drop), the yawn may be the body's way of resisting fatigue by inducing arousal. Once the subjects went to bed no yawns ...

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