Yawning in the womb

Fetuses yawn repeatedly in the womb, a new study finds. The reasons are as yet unknown. Are they losing sleep? Are they stressed or overworked? Do they find their limited entertainment options insufficiently stimulating? The researchers suggest that the yawning is linked to brain development, but also admit it’s still a mystery why anyone yawns, before or after birth. It’s safe to say, however, that contagious yawning — something humans share with dogs and chimpanzees — is not a factor in the womb.

Almost all vertebrates yawn, including fish. If the James–Lange theory of emotion is to be credited, yawning reinforces bodily consciousness. Or so suggests the author of a 2006 article in the journal Medical Hypotheses.

Yawning can be seen as a proprioceptive performance awareness which inwardly provides a pre-reflective sense of one’s body and a reappraisal of the body schema. The behavioral consequences of adopting specific regulatory strategies and the neural systems involved act upon attention and cognitive changes. Thus, it is proposed that yawning is a part of interoceptiveness by its capacity to increase arousal and self-awareness.


Watch the video.

I like the idea that nascent self-awareness finds expression in yawning. “I yawn, therefore I am”?

8 Replies to “Yawning in the womb”

  1. I belch, therefore I am loud?
    Yawning really is a mystery then. I thought it had to do with taking in more oxygen (to wake us up), or to expand the lungs when that is needed.
    Yawning as a means to self-awareness?
    Probably tosh!
    : )

    1. Yeah, I don’t think the oxygen hypothesis has been ruled out, yet, by any matter of means. Of course, it might serve more than one function. Mostly, I just like the word “proprioceptive.”

  2. That is intriguing. I’ve always thought of it a special case of stretching, guarded with some extra responses because it involves those tricky breathing and eating muscles. But of course, no one has any idea why we stretch, either: it doesn’t convey any obvious benefit, no matter what the grocery checkout magazines say.

    1. Interesting — good to get your reactions as a body-work professional. And speaking of really cool words (see my previous comment), did you know pandiculation? “A stretching and stiffening of the trunk and extremities, as when fatigued and drowsy or on waking, often accompanied by yawning,” says the Wiktionary.

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