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SUNY POLY Professor and former student combine on an eye-opening study about yawning

New study shows seeing someone yawn can make you more vigilant.

Posted: Jan 10, 2021 1:45 PM
Updated: Jan 11, 2021 9:47 AM

Marcy, N.Y. - What do you know about yawning? Well, you may now learn something new.

Yawning has long been known to be caused by fatigue and boredom.

You may also yawn when you talk about yawning or see or hear someone else yawn as yawning is known to be contagious.

Also, recent science suggests a yawn is a way for our bodies to try and cool our brain.

Now, a study done right here in the Mohawk Valley at SUNY POLY in Marcy has shown that seeing someone yawn, can make you more alert, more aware of your surroundings, and can help you detect danger more quickly.

Dr. Andrew Gallup, Assistant Professor of Psychology at SUNY POLY conducted the study along with former SUNY POLY undergrad student Kaitlyn Meyers.

Dr. Gallup says their hypothesis was as follows, "Our hypothesis was that seeing other people yawn would increase the detection of dangerous stimuli, in particular snakes. So we wanted to see whether or not that affect was true."

Dr. Gallup says it was proved true and he and Meyers have had their work published in the journal called Animal Cognition just this past week.

He says the study went as follows, "We had participants come into the laboratory and we seated them in front of an eye tracker and we exposed them to video clips of people yawning, or people just displaying neutral expressions. And then after viewing these video clips, we had them take part in visual search tasks in which they were instructed to search for and identify a particular target image on the screen as quickly as possible. And these images were either of dangerous animals, snakes, or neutral animals, frogs. And we were able to, through eye tracking, to detect the time it took to fixate on the target image of the task and how many times they were distracted by non-target images during the search."

Dr. Gallup says participants who saw video clips of people yawning were able to detect the dangerous snakes quicker.

The Animal Cognition journal states that these findings provide the first experimental evidence for a social function to yawning in any species, and imply the presence of a previously unidentified psychological adaptation for preserving group vigilance.

Dr. Gallup says he's very interested and eager to replicate this research and expand upon it, "Ultimately it has the potential whereby you can see applications to exposing people to yawning stimuli to improve cognitive performance within certain domains. Individuals that are working in surveillance, individuals that have to kind of monitor the environment for threats or danger in various settings. You might be able to use contagious yawning stimuli to improve their performance and improve their detection of threats while working, or in different context. That is really exciting to me because it will be really, really easy to implement and can have a wide ranging applications."

You can read the full publication here, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10071-020-01462-4

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