Author Archives: vishavg

The Age Old Question: “Why is yawning contagious?”

I am sure at one point or another all of us have yawned while watching someone else yawn. I can guarantee that by the time you finish reading this article you will have yawned at least once. So why is it that every time we see, read or hear someone yawning we are inclined to do so as well? In order to answer this question we have to first learn the science behind yawning.

Source: Google Images

Yawning is an involuntary reflex that is commonly associated with relaxation and fatigue. Physiologically, as our jaw drops there is increased blood flow to our neck, face and brain. The air that is inhaled during the yawn cools the blood, which is then cycled back to the brain. Why does cool air to the brain matter? Well studies have shown that a cooler brain may increase alertness and the ability to process information more efficiently.

Aside from the physiological aspect, yawning has a lot to do with the social environment surrounding us. Studies have shown that yawning is linked to empathy, which is the ability to understand what someone else is feeling and share in their emotion. This is the reason why we are happier when surrounded by people who are happy and why we are sad when surrounded by people who are sad. In the same way scientists have found that by the time we are four or five years old, we begin to recognize contagious yawning and partake in it as an emotional response. Additionally, studies also show that we are more likely to catch a yawn from people that we share a strong bond with, like family and friends, versus strangers. Interestingly enough this same behaviour has also been observed in chimpanzees and dogs. In following video, Michael from Vsauce gives a more in depth explanation on both the physiological and social aspects of yawning, as well as why it may be contagious.

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You may wonder why is research on yawning important? The answer to this question lies in the research being done to improve the behaviour of patients diagnosed with autism. Studies have shown that kids with autism are half as likely to yawn and kids with severe cases may not yawn at all. This is because they cannot form the empathetic link that individuals without autism can. This relationship between autism and yawning can be crucial in understanding and diagnosing a cure for autism.

After doing all the research, it was interesting to find that there are many theories about why yawning is contagious. I found that the wide belief is in consensus with Dr. Adrian Guggisberg’s hypothesis. His hypothesis states that  empathy is the main cause of contagious yawning and that physiological effects can be deemed negligible since they are far too subtle to be conserved throughout evolution. So the next you see someone yawn, know that it is only human nature to do so yourself.

Vishav Gill

A Grip on Reality: The Future of Prosthetics

The human body has five basic senses: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. Now take a minute and imagine your life without one of them. It’s easy to realize that we as humans rely on our senses for almost everything we do. Yet there are many people in the world, such as amputees, that do not have one or multiple senses.

Dennis Aabo Sørensen, a man from Denmark, became an amputee almost nine years ago when he lost his left hand in an accident. Although he was using a prosthetic hand, he had permanently lost the ability to feel anything from his hand. That is until recently when he became the first human to try the new bionic hand that allows you to feel what you touch with a prosthetic.

Image from Google Images

The scientists at Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies of Pisa (SSSA) designed the bionic hand prototype that will allow people like Dennis to feel objects in real-time using sensory feedback technology. The bionic hand works by measuring the force it takes for the tendons in the artificial hand to grasp an object. Once the measurement of force is identified, the tendons send electrical impulses through wires to the electrodes that have been surgically connected to the nerves of the actual arm. Although it seems like the impulse is not instantly sent to the brain, it actually happens in a matter of seconds to give the feeling of real-time. In the following video Silvestro Micera provides a more in-depth preview of the bionic hand and Dennis Aabo Sørensen describes his initial thoughts on this new technology.

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Although this technology is still years away from being commercially available, it is still a great achievement in the medical world. I believe the next steps in this project would be to figure out how to make this technology available in portable prosthetics and how much it would cost for the general public. Having said that, this technology holds great promises for people like Dennis who have been unable to experience their life fully due to their lost sense. Many individuals can now look forward to a brighter future in the world of prosthetics.

Vishav Gill