Yawns could help keep us safe by making people nearby more vigilant to threats when someone is tired
- Researchers found that seeing someone yawn makes people more alert to threats
- A previous study found that seeing yawns increased people’s ability to detect snakes.
The reason we yawn has long been a mystery.
But that may be because it helps us avoid damage, a study suggests.
Researchers have found that seeing someone yawn makes people more alert to threats.
It is believed that yawning has become a signal to the group that one of them is tired. The spectator’s brain becomes more attentive to threats in order to cover for the tired – and therefore more vulnerable – member of the group.
“The group vigilance hypothesis proposes that seeing someone yawn should trigger neurocognitive changes to enhance the alertness of the observer to compensate for the reduced alertness of the yawner,” the SUNY Polytechnic Institute researchers said.
Yawning is thought to have evolved as a signal to the group that one of them is tired, thus alerting the others.
“The tendency to be attuned to and affected by others’ yawns may have evolved because of the effect this had on improving survival within groups.”
For this study, they looked at whether seeing others yawn improved detection of lions – which were likely to have posed a recurring threat to human survival throughout evolutionary history – by compared to impalas, a type of antelope, which would not have constituted a danger for our planet. ancestors.
The researchers, whose results are published in the journal Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences, tested 27 people.
First, they showed them videos of people yawning or displaying neutral expressions. Then, in random order, they repeatedly showed them images of a lion or impala in a matrix of other distractor images and asked them to find the target animal.
“After being exposed to people yawning, participants were faster to detect lions and slower to look for impalas,” the researchers said.
A previous study by the same university found that seeing people yawn increased their ability to detect snakes.
By replicating the study with a different animal, the team was able to show that the effect was not just specific to snakes, but in different contexts.
A previous study from the same university found that seeing people yawn increased their ability to detect snakes.
Dr Andrew Gallup, who was involved in both studies, said: “Replications are important to ensure that the original results were not false or due to chance events or statistical anomalies.”
“When we are able to replicate previous experiments, as we have done here, we are confident that the results represent real effects.”
“In this case, we also wanted to replicate the previous study to ensure that the effects observed in the original study were not due to the specific type of stimulus used (i.e. snakes).”
“By performing a conceptual replication, we show that seeing other people yawn improves threat detection, i.e. alertness, in different contexts.”