Yawning, acute stressors, and arousal reduction in Nazca booby adults and nestlings Academic Article uri icon


  • Yawning is a familiar and phylogenetically widespread phenomenon, but no consensus exists regarding its functional significance. We tested the hypothesis that yawning communicates to others a transition from a state of physiological and/or psychological arousal (for example, due to action of a stressor) to a more relaxed state. This arousal reduction hypothesis predicts little yawning during arousal and more yawning (above baseline) during and after down-regulation of arousal. Experimental capture-restraint tests with wild adult Nazca boobies (Sula granti), a seabird, increased yawning frequency after release from restraint, but yawning was almost absent during tests. Natural maltreatment by non-parental adults also increased yawning by nestlings, but only after the maltreatment ended and the adult left. CORT (corticosterone) was a logical a priori element of the stress response affecting the stressor-yawning relationship under the arousal reduction hypothesis, and cannot be excluded as such for adults in capture-restraint tests but is apparently unimportant for nestlings being maltreated by adults. The arousal reduction hypothesis unites formerly disparate results on yawning: its socially contagious nature in some taxa, its clear pharmacological connection to the stress response, and its temporal linkage to transitions in arousal between consciousness and sleep.

altmetric score

  • 5.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Liang, A. C., Grace, J. K., Tompkins, E. M., & Anderson, D. J.

citation count

  • 17

publication date

  • December 2014