Thursday, November 22, 2012

Recordings show that fetuses yawn in the womb

Ever so often we discover things that do not seem particularly useful, but are still interesting enough to mention. An example of this is a recent study regarding the phenomenon of yawning. A group of scientists working at Durham and Lancaster University tried to find out whether fetuses also exhibit this peculiar form of behaviour. While we do not actually understand the function of yawning, aside from a rather interesting and recent theory, we at least know that we already do so in the womb.

A special kind of recording technology called 4D video was used to track the behaviour of fetuses. The study comprised of a total of 15 healthy unborns, 7 male, 8 female, that were observed during the 24th through 36th week of pregnancy. During the observations the scientists closely looked for any mouth openings they could detect on the video.

Because opening the mouth is something else than yawning, the occurrence in unborns has been widely disputed. However, the Durham and Lancaster scientists used newly developed criteria that helped them distinguish between an ordinary mouth opening and a yawn. That way they showed that, aside from opening their mouth, fetuses do have the capability to yawn.

Although this particular study does not bring us closer to uncovering the actual function of yawning, it is an interesting finding. It is quite peculiar that yawning is so hard-coded that we already exhibit this form of behaviour before we are even born. The scientists that conducted the study think that yawning may be linked to fetal development, but they do not actually back it up with a sensible hypothesis. Therefore it seems that this study generates more questions than it answers, but that is why we call it science.

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