Biographies de neurologues
Nouvelle Iconographie de La Salpêtrière
 L'histoire des neurosciences à La Pitié et à La Salpêtrière J Poirier
The history of neurosciences at La Pitié and La Salpêtrière J Poirier 

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When the yawn breaks
HR Clarkson


LET'S SAY that your wife has accepted a dinner engagement for the two of you, and that it happens to be at the Smith's, who without a doubt are the stuffiest, most boring hosts you have the displeasure of knowing. But you go, brother, you go! And it's not going to be your fault if, in the midst of the customary after-dinner stalemate of conversation, you find yourself yawning profusely, to the express dismay of your wife and the hostess, both of whom have caught you in the act.
Now let's say that you are an habitual movie goer and your favorite actor is appearing in a blood and thunder show at your local theater. You arrive just before the prices change for the evening performance-you and three hundred other fans! The usher informs you that you will have to wait in line with the others until the second show begins. Well, you've come this far, and even if your feet do hurt, you are stubborn enough :to wait in the poorly ventilated, overcrowded lobby. As you wait, you yawn continuously.
Once more, let's assume that you had been so busy at the office that you completely forgot about eating lunch. That evening, as your wife greets you at the door of your home, you waste no time informing her that you are famished.
In the process of the narration, you yawn repeatedly. Your wife is angry with you because you are not as enthusiastic about seeing her as you were twenty-odd years ago, but you can't help yawning to her face-you're just tired and hungry.
I have just illustrated the most common, most fertile environments for the occurrence of a yawn - boredom, fatigue, hanker and poor ventilation.
Many psychologists will tell you that yawning is no moreless than a reflex action and a member in good standing of the famous family of reflexes that includes the kneerk, withdrawal of the hand from contact with a hot object, blinking when Junior throws a sponge ball squarely at your face, and many others.
Because yawning is, then, a reflex action, it occurs for the most part without your conscious thought. Had you any control over it, do you think you would have yawned right at the moment when the hostess and your wife both had their eyes on you? Of course, some people can actually plan a yawn in advance to meet a certain situation. Unquestionably, Ethel Barrymore, Hedy Lamarr and Lou Costello all have this ability. But most of us have neither the occasion to put on a yawn nor the training to stage a reasonable facsimile of the same.
No doubt, you have often been in a group of people and experienced the ludicrous sensation of watching a yawn pass contagiously from'. one person to another, yourself included. This "community" type of yawn is explained away by the power of suggestion or association, but it is still a reflex action, garnished perhaps by a few complications that meaii nothing so far as this discussion is concerned. If you are a Doubting Thomas and are inclined to minimize the power of suggestion, just test the theory yourself. Take this moment right now to think about yawning-concentrate hard. If you are perfectly fair about the test, you will probably find yourself in the midst of a yawn. You see, the suggestion alone may well prove father to the act!
What goes on when you yawn? As a matter of fact, you are gulping in a surplus of air, giving your lungs a rare and much appreciated treat. How do you know it's appreciated? Well, when you get right down to analyzing the sensation, you must admit that yawning is thoroughly enjoyable. You feel a real tone-up at the completion of the ad, thereby proving that Nature is pretty wise, after all, because she has designed yawning with the idea in mind of providing just such a tone-up.
We can thank the early AngloSaxons for giving a name to this pleasant reflex action. If they hadn't devised the picturesque "ganian," which meant to open the mouth broadly, or gape, there's no telling what yawning might have been called :by the time it arrived at the twentieth century.
Speaking about the twentieth century, it is interesting to note that despite the mass of medical information available today, there is little to be found on the subject of yawning. This is understandable because, pathologically speaking,the act is seldom significant. While there are certain facts connected with yawning that a physician would consider in a diagnosis, for general purposès yawning has been given to man to help him adjust himself to an unfavorable environment, whether it be internal, as in the case of hunger for food or air, or external, as it may be suggested by boredom, or emotional fatiguerecall the visit to the Smith's?
If you thoroughly enjoy your yawn, think nothing more about it -unless of course, your particular style of rendering the act is socially offensive. In that case, only Emily Post can help you.