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  1. to open the mouth widely and take a long, rather deep breath, often because one is tired.
  2. to present an opening that appears able to swallow one up, literally or metaphorically:
    The canyon yawns as it has done for millions of years, and we stand looking, dumbstruck.
    Death yawned before us, and I hit the brakes.

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A yawn (from the Middle English yanen, an alteration of yonen or yenen, which in turn comes from the Old English geonian), is a reflex of simultaneous inhalation of air and stretching of the eardrums, followed by exhalation of breath. Pandiculation is the term for the act of stretching and yawning simultaneously.

Yawning is associated with tiredness, stress, overwork, lack of stimulation, or boredom. Yawning can also be a powerful non-verbal message with several possible meanings, depending on the circumstances. In humans, yawning has an infectious quality (i.e., seeing a person yawning) or just thinking of yawning, can trigger yawning which is a typical example of positive feedback. Infectious yawning has also been noted in chimpanzees.

There are a number of theories that attempt to explain why animals yawn. It is likely that there are a number of triggers—not just one—for the behavior. However, there are a few select theories that attempt to explain the primary evolutionary reason for the yawn. None of them have been entirely substantiated, but there are two that many scientists now believe are likely contenders to be the primary trigger for animal yawns. The first states that yawning occurs when one's blood contains increased amounts of carbon dioxide and, therefore, becomes in need of the influx of oxygen that a yawn can provide. Researchers believed this theory to be true for years, but studies have actually shown that it's either incorrect or, at the very least, flawed. Yawning may, in fact, reduce oxygen intake compared to normal respiration, not increase it.

The second notion, which has become the most widely accepted among the theories, states that yawning is the body's way if controlling brain temperature. The process cools off your brain, much like a fan cools the inside of a computer. Nervousness has also been suggested as a possible reason. There have been studies that suggest that yawning, especially for psychological reasons ("contagious" yawning), may have developed as a way of keeping a group of animals alert. Anecdotal evidence suggests that yawning helps increase the state of alertness of a person—paratroopers have been noted to yawn in the moments before they exit the aircraft.

Yawning in art

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Yawn" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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