The part of the brain that makes us yawn is in the reticular formation. This area is made up of small gray matter with threads of white matter woven in. This part also extends down into the spinal cord, and it has both sensory and motor nerves.
Brain activity associated with viewing another yawn seems to circumvent the essential parts of the MNS [mirror neuron system], a system essential for learning. The nature of contagious yawns are thought to be automatically released behavioral acts—rather than truly imitated motor patterns that would require detailed action understanding. Researchers have also found that the left periamygdalar region of the brain “deactivates” during a sympathetic yawn. This region has been previously linked with unconscious emotional expressions recorded in faces.
Yawns can be passes between humans and animals. Atsushi Senju, who studies animal yawns at Birkbeck, University of London, believes dogs’ ability to catch yawns suggests they may be better at empathising with humans than previously thought.
Some Yawning Facts
- Between 40 and 60% of the human population is susceptible to contagious yawns.
- A single shark yawning can set off a yawn reaction in the whole community.
- Thinking about yawning, can cause a person to yawn.
- Adelie and Emperor penguins, for instance, employ yawning as part of their courtship ritual.
- The average duration of a yawn is about 6 seconds.