Yawn Interrupted

October 27th, 2013 by Potato

I have — quite by accident, as one does — achieved something truly incredible. In just a few short days I have completely destroyed a fundamental behavioural reflex that is shared by all the mammals I’ve ever shared a house with: yawning. I didn’t use pain or taste conditioning, no electrodes or supra-threshold induced currents with TMS. I didn’t use dopamine agonists, opioids, or GABA inhibitors — I didn’t inject anything at all.

What happened was that I was exhausted and a little silly from playing with Blueberry. Wayfare was going off to bed and yawning quite a lot. So I mimicked her: as she yawned, I opened my mouth. I didn’t have a sympathy yawn, I didn’t mimick the movement in my eyes or the tilt of my head: all I did was open my mouth wide until she was done yawning. And that cognitive dissonance of a not-quite-a-sympathetic-yawn made her laugh. So I did it again. Over the course of 2-3 days I did it maybe 5 or 6 times, that’s it. Now — completely untaught by me — Blueberry is doing it to her too.

And now she can’t yawn in front of either of us without laughing. “It’s so frustrating, I can’t satisfy my urge to yawn,” she says, leaving the room to get a good yawn in.

Beyond the fact that this is so hilarious that I pretty much give myself an asthma attack laughing at her tragic yet ultimately trivial problem, it is completely fascinating. Yawning is a hard reflex to suppress (though to be fair “broken” is not the same as suppressed), so I’m surprised that a few bouts of giggling is all it took. Fair warning to you all: I may be trying this out on the next few people I catch yawning.

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