Du bâillement, acte involontaire
extrait de la Thèse de R. Trautmann
comment induire volontairement un bâillement
Illustrations de la thèse de Wolter Seuntjens
Illustrations de la thèse de Wolter Seuntjens
OSCITAX ® is indicated for people who :
- at unexpected and socially awkward moments get an irresistible urge to yawn
- at the right moments cannot yawn.
wolter seuntjens
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18 novembre 2004
On Yawning
or the hidden sexuality of the human yawn
Wolter Seuntjens
27 octobre 2004
Thesis Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam


Annals of Improbable Research (AIR) and pdf
On Yawning or The Hidden Sexuality of the Human Yawn
In science yawning has not received its due attention. In this investigation.  Wolter Seuntjens gives a systematic-encyclopaedic overview of all available knowledge about the yawn. The fields from which he derives his data are semantics and etymology, sociology, psychology, the medical sciences (anatomy, physiology, pathology, and pharmacology), and the arts (literature, film, visual-arts).
Then, Wolter Seuntjens associates a number of these data in order to test the hypothesis : yawning has an erotic side, yawning has a sexual aspect.
As the total amount of circumstantial evidence surpasses a critical mass, he can, for the present moment and until future refutation, assume this hypothesis to be correct. Furthermore, he provides two predictions about prospective scientific research that will enable a more direct testing of his hypothesis.
Finally, Wolter Seuntjens enumerates 22 theses. The two foremost conclusions of this investigation are :
the yawn is, contrary to common-sense ideas, far from trivial; yawning is an extremely complex and significant behaviour.
The yawn, and this clashes even more with common sense notions, appears to have an erotic side, a sexual aspect.
 Stretching and yawning witht Yeats and Pound. Clark DR
Recapitulation pages 364-367
The mass of data that we presented in the encyclopaedic overview makes one thing clear: there is no good explanation for yawning.
As regards physiology : the hypoxia and hypercapnia theories - these long-untested theories that also figure prominently in common-sense notions - were conclusively refuted by Robert Provine and his collaborators (Provine, Tate, and Geldmacher 1987). The now popular theory that yawning leads to wakefulness ('arousal defense reflex') (Askenasy 1989) is not without its problems (Laing and Ogilvie 1988; Dourish and Cooper 1990: 103). Formulated more ambiguously as "an important function of yawning [might be] to modify levels of cortical arousal" (Baenninger 1997: 205) this theory clarifies little or nothing, especially where the current deus ex machina is invoked:
"Maintaining or attaining a particular level of arousal is an important matter in the life of most vertebrates, and yawning, to the extent that it serves as a means for doing so, should be seen as an important part of adaptive behavior."
In the paragraphs on pathology and pharmacology we found so many different illnesses and disorders that are associated with increased yawning that for the moment it is impossible to extract a common factor. The same goes for the very many chemical substances that induce yawning (Crenshaw and Goldberg 1996: 415; Argiolas and Melis 1998: 12). What this common pharmacological factor, if there is one, constitutes, remains unclear.
In the chapter on the psychology of yawning we discussed various subthemes of which the most concrete are: contagiousness, non-verbal behaviour, and conditionability. Neither of these subthemes has been completely clarified. Psychologically, too, the yawn is still very much an unsolved riddle.
In the chapter on the sociology of the yawn we found that the yawn is (quasi-)universally taboo. The reason why this is so remains shrouded in mystery: the various rationales given - superstitious, hygienic, aesthetic, psychological - are all implausible. The ethological rationale (bared teeth) may turn out to provide the best explanation for the taboo of yawning.
As a preliminary conclusion we may therefore state that Reber's Law applies perfectly to the hitherto considered trivial behaviour of yawning: the closer the yawn is examined, the more complex it is seen to be (Reber 1985: 618). In fact, we have really no idea what causes yawning and what purpose yawning serves or what mechanisms are responsible for yawning and even what the essential anatomical constituents of yawning are. In the age in which the human genome has been deciphered and space travel has become almost trite this verdict may sound as an affront. What, however, is worse than admitting ignorance? It is the hubris that some scientists show by trying to force the yawn into one general explanatory formula. They fall victim to what Aldous Huxley termed 'the Original Sin of the Intellect, the urge to oversimplification.' (Huxley 2001).
Yet, in the light of the hypothesis (H1) it becomes clear that in the data that we gathered there is at least one recurrent theme: eroticism-sexuality. There is indeed more than a hint of an erotic-sexual aspect in yawning.
We found that both the 'yawn' and the 'stretch of the SYS are semantically and etymologically associated with 'desire' and 'longing for' (Muller and Thiel 1947: 768). In several proverbs and sayings yawning - and especially contagious yawning - is interpreted as a clue of something more than just sympathy, as a sign of being in love (Schlossar 1891: 402; DLI 1977, vol. 17: 75; Hand 1981, no. 12964; Beyer 1985: 187; Hiller 1986: 69). Yawning was both linked with acedia-boredom and with luxuria (lechery) and passion. As a non-verbal behaviour the yawn was found to figure - be it consciously or unconsciously - in the courtship process (Howell 1659; Féré 1905; Kars 1969; Givens 1978, 1984; Moor, de 1995). That this is not a purely recent or western phenomenon was illustrated by passages from ancient Indian literature (Schmidt 1922; Vatsyayana 1965; Biharilal 1990; Kesavadasa 1993). Not surprisingly perhaps, the few psychoanalysts who did mention the yawn interpreted it as a latent sexual signal (Meerloo 1955: 65; Marcus 1973; Felstein 1976).
Ethological studies in primates found a clear relationship between yawn-frequency and hierarchical status (Bielert 1978; Hadidian 1980; Deputte 1994) and between yawn-frequency and the serum level of testosterone (Chambers and Phoenix 1981). In the paragraph on anatomy and physiology we found that Chouard and Bigot-Massoni (1990: 146, 152) described the feeling that accompanies the acme of yawning as a 'mini orgasm'. Moreover, the same authors concluded: "Retenons surtout pour conclure son intime et inconsciente relation avec la vie sexuelle, […]." (Let us remember in conclusion its intimate and unconscious relation with sexual life, […].) (Chouard and Bigot-Massoni 1990: 152). In the paragraph on pathology we discovered that yawning and spontaneous ejaculation were observed concomitantly in terminal rabies (Beek 1969). In the paragraph on pharmacology we found a link between yawning and spontaneous orgasm in withdrawal from heroine addiction (Parr 1967; O'Brien 1996).
Likewise, yawning and sexual response (SR) were associated as clinical side effects of several antidepressant drugs. In one publication an undeniable causal relation was reported: both spontaneous and intentional yawning provoked instantaneous ejaculation-orgasm (McLean, Forsythe, and Kapkin 1983). In experiments with animals many more substances were seen to induce, sometimes simultaneously, both stretch-yawn syndrome (SYS) and SR. We found that in humans apomorphine induces both SYS and SR (Lal et al. 1987a, 1987b, 1989).
In the chapter on yawning and the arts, we discussed, in a somewhat more conjectural manner, the conspicuously erotic sigh and the equally erotic posture X. I argued for the interpretation of the sigh and posture X as the auditory and visual proxies of the SYS.
It is because of the critical mass of circumstantial evidence that we accumulated in the foregoing chapters that all these data, passages, and quotations take on an ambivalent or double meaning. Nowhere is that clearer than in the use of the words 'yawning' and 'stretching' in the poetry of W. B. Yeats, as for instance in:
O cruel Death give three things back,
Three dear things that women know,
The third thing that I think of yet,
Is that morning when I met
Face to face my rightful man
And did after stretch and yawn.
And what to think of the following passage taken from 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' by Muriel Spark in which the pupils Jenny and Sandy discuss their teacher's love life:
"For this reason she was more reticent than Jenny about the details of the imagined love affair. Jenny whispered, 'They go to bed. Then he puts out the light. Then their toes touch. And then Miss Brodie… Miss Brodie…' She broke into giggles."
'Miss Brodie yawns,' said Sandy in order to restore decency, now that she suspected it was all true.
The yawn in this passage serves as an anti-climax but is therefore also ambiguous and thus comical. Equally ambiguous is the passage from Thomas Hardy's novel 'Tess'. Angel Clare watches Tess while she yawns and stretches and is overwhelmed by love and desire.
"She had not heard him enter, and hardly realized his presence there. She was yawning, and he saw the red interior of her mouth as if it had been a snake's. She had stretched one arm so high above her coiled-up cable of hair that he could see its satin delicacy above the sunburn; her face was flushed with sleep, and her eyelids hung heavy over the pupils. The brim-fullness of her nature breathed from her. It was a moment when a woman's soul is more incarnate than at any other time; when the most spiritual beauty bespeaks itself flesh; and sex takes the outside place in the representation."
 Yawning : comparative study of knowledge and beliefs, popular and medical
The nonverbal basis of attraction: flirtation, courtship and seduction. Givens D
Yawning Mannerism of speech and gestures in evryday life Feldman S 1959