Yawning: An evolutionary perspective

Abstract

Yawning is a ubiquitous activity among humans, nonhuman primates, mammals, birds and other vertebrates. Comparative analysis suggests that yawning has two major features: (1) communication — whereby the behavior of other individuals is affected, and (2) direct physiological benefit — whereby the organism is receiving some direct physiological benefit from yawning. Various functional hypotheses used to explain yawning in an evolutionary context are reviewed. The contagious nature in humans and the manifest lack of contagion in other species suggests that yawning in humans has a different and as yet poorly understood evolutionary history.

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Smith, E.O. Yawning: An evolutionary perspective. Hum. Evol. 14, 191–198 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02440156

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Key words

  • Complex reflex
  • yawning
  • gaping
  • proximate causation
  • ultimate causation