Behaviour 2019
Enhanced object location memory for snakes and the group vigilance hypothesis of yawning
Andrew/C Gallup. SUNY Polytechnic Institute, Utica, NY, United States

It has been proposed that yawning holds an adaptive social function in signaling a down regulation of arousal and vigilance. Accordingly, the group vigilance hypothesis predicts that sensing yawns in others should trigger neural changes to improve the vigilance of observers in order to compensate for the reduced alertness of the actor. In support of hypothesis, exposure to yawning stimuli has been shown to selectively enhance the detection of threats. The current study, which remains ongoing, examines whether seeing others yawn also boosts the location memory of threats. This is tested by assessing how exposure to yawns alters spatial memory for snakes, frogs, and flowers. In a within-subjects design, 30 participants have thus far completed location memory tasks separately after viewing yawning and control videos. As predicted, location memory is highest for snakes. However, seeing others yawn does not appear to enhance this effect. These preliminary findings suggest yawns signal a transient reduction in mental processing, and that sensing this action in others functions to preserve group vigilance via initial threat detection rather than the spatial tracking of threats over time.