You’ve got to love scientists. Imagine a bunch of guys (I’m just assuming here) sitting round a table thinking about what to study next. One of them suggests yawning – the excitement is palpable. But hang on a minute, what can they use to study the effects of this effect? At once, one of them springs from his chair. “Parakeets,” he says. “We’ll use parakeets.” And so they did.
As it turned out, the results were fascinating and the parakeet revealed more insight into the human brain than you would have dreamed possible. Parakeets have big brains and are not inflicted with contagious yawning like humans are. You know how it happens: you’re at an important meeting and the minute one person yawns, everyone follows. Parakeets live wild in the extreme temperatures of Australia and it turns out that yawning is closely connected with brain temperature. Like that other thinking machine – the computer – overheating is a problem for the brain. Alone, the brain burns up to a third of the calories we consume, so a lot of heat is generated. Yawning is a way we try to keep our brain temperature down by drawing in cool air. That’s why we tend not to yawn if the temperature is warmer than our bodies. Inhaling hot air will not help cool a hot brain. From this research, scientists at the State University of New York have proposed that excessive yawning may be an indicator of overheating in the brain and that is not a good thing. So now we know that yawning is designed to cool the brain down and is not just a sign of boredom as most of us thought.
Think about it. The next time someone yawns at a meeting, you’re probably looking at a hot head.