It’s something we all do. It’s involuntary, and it’s often contagious. Common wisdom suggests that we yawn because we are bored or tired. But is that why we yawn? Should we be offended if someone yawns while we are talking to them? What is a yawn, and why do we do it? More importantly, why do students yawn?
Most species engage in a yawn, from humans to dogs and even reptiles. It is an involuntary action in the nervous system characterized by the extension of the jaw, with a wide-open mouth and sudden inhalation of air, filling the lungs quickly and flooding the system with oxygen. It is often refreshing and creates a sense of increased concentration or wakefulness. Some research has suggested a yawn is an action related to nervousness or anticipation of action. Researchers have observed athletes yawning before their event begins. Interestingly, a yawn is contagious. The reasons are unknown, but theories suggest yawning may signal others in a group to stay alert, particularly in groups of animals that may be hunted or attacked.
Regardless of why we yawn, the act may be considered rude in certain situations. When you are talking with someone, and they yawn, you suddenly feel as if you are boring them. You may cut the discussion short or feel slighted as a result. As a teacher, a yawn from a student usually results in quite a few yawns, all of them throwing you off. Is it that they are being impolite, or are you boring them? You may feel angry at the yawners, but you may also question what you are doing and saying while in front of the class. It’s all so distracting!
A New Perspective for Students
What if a yawn is something entirely different than what we’ve always believed? What if a yawn is a signal that the yawner is all in, mentally present, and taking in your every word? Recent research suggests that yawning might be something that we want to see as we talk to others. Humans yawn longer than other animals, with the average yawn lasting about 6 seconds. While no one is sure why our yawns persist longer than others, it could be linked to the size of our brains. Research has discovered that a yawn increases blood flow to the brain, which in turn cools it. The result is a surge in alertness; cool brains are more active.
Recent research suggests that contagious yawning is a sign of empathy. When animals adopt the feelings of others, that is empathy. When a person yawns in response to another person’s yawn, they assume that person’s emotions and exude physical characteristics of that feeling—a yawn presumably intended to sharpen focus. Our physical response reflects our emotional connection.
The Takeaway for Students
You are teaching what you believe to be the most exciting part of the history of the Egyptians; you look out at your students, and you see a yawn. Whoa! Rather than think you are boring, know that you have that student’s full attention! They work hard to focus on what you are saying and, as a result, need to cool their brain with a big, rumbling yawn accentuated with an arm stretch—all of which are largely beyond their control! When you see half of the class yawn, as a result, be proud that your students are connecting uniquely, sharing an empathetic moment right before your very eyes.
Take advantage of that moment and deliver the most crucial point in your lesson! So, embrace those yawns and know they are genuinely working hard to listen to you; take pride when you see those wide-open mouths! Contact us today for additional ideas you can use in your classroom.