One of my favorite places to look for topics of interest and learning value is the Psychology Today Web-site. Not long ago I noticed a blog called “Why Do You Yawn When You’re Not Sleepy” by Faith Brynie, published in the Brain Sense category of the web-site. It offered a very interesting discussion of this most universal human behavior and referenced recent research that suggests that the causes of yawning may go beyond conventional wisdom. One of the things I like to do with new ideas or information is to explore them in a different context, and so I started thinking about yawning in the business context, with the following result.
The context– You’re giving a presentation at work to a large group of people, and someone yawns, then someone next to them yawns, and soon you see several other members of the audience stifling their yawns. Watching all of this, suddenly even you feel the urge to yawn. What’s going on? Did they only serve decaf coffee at the cafeteria this morning and everyone is falling asleep? Well according to this article, which is based on numerous neuroscience studies and research projects, while it’s definitely possible that your audience is sleepy, there are also other potential explanations. Unfortunately for you, one possibility is that your presentation is universally, and mind-numbingly boring. Studies have shown that yawning is an involuntary act triggered by the release of a brain chemical that is produced when a human being is captured in what they perceive to be an extraordinarily boring environment. The good news is that studies have also confirmed what all of us have experienced throughout our lives…that yawning is highly contagious. So your presentation may only be really boring to one person and the all of the other yawns have been triggered the first one.
Experts believe that yawning may be hardwired into our brains and that it evolved as a form of human communication to coordinate behavioral responses to changes in our environment. Further studies show that people who scored higher on the “empathy” scale in personality tests, were more likely to yawn in response to seeing others yawn.
But wait there’s more… A new theory coming from researchers at Princeton and the University of Maryland says that yawning helps to regulate the temperature of our brains by inhaling and processing additional cool air through our sinus cavities. They believe that this may explain why we evolved to have sinus cavities, which otherwise don’t seem to have any important function.
So, given all of that insightful information, here’s my work context take-away. The next time you’re giving a presentation and members of the audience start to yawn, don’t worry…it might not be your fault. It could be just one guy who didn’t get enough sleep last night and a bunch of other people with empathetic personalities or hot brains.