Yawning as a behavioral marker of mild motion sickness and sopite syndrome

Aviat Space Environ Med. 2014 Jun;85(6):658-61. doi: 10.3357/asem.3897.2014.


Introduction: Severe motion sickness is easily identifiable with sufferers showing obvious behavioral signs, including emesis (vomiting). Mild motion sickness and sopite syndrome lack such clear and objective behavioral markers. We postulate that yawning may have the potential to be used in operational settings as such a marker. This study assesses the utility of yawning as a behavioral marker for the identification of soporific effects by investigating the association between yawning and mild motion sickness/sopite syndrome in a controlled environment.

Methods: Using a randomized motion-counterbalanced design, we collected yawning and motion sickness data from 39 healthy individuals (34 men and 5 women, ages 27-59 yr) in static and motion conditions. Each individual participated in two 1-h sessions. Each session consisted of six 10-min blocks. Subjects performed a multitasking battery on a head mounted display while seated on the moving platform. The occurrence and severity of symptoms were assessed with the Motion Sickness Assessment Questionnaire (MSAQ).

Results: Yawning occurred predominantly in the motion condition. All yawners in motion (N = 5) were symptomatic. Compared to nonyawners (MSAQ indices: Total = 14.0, Sopite = 15.0), subjects who yawned in motion demonstrated increased severity of motion sickness and soporific symptoms (MSAQ indices: Total = 17.2, Sopite = 22.4), and reduced multitasking cognitive performance (Composite score: nonyawners = 1348; yawners = 1145).

Discussion: These results provide evidence that yawning may be a viable behavioral marker to recognize the onset of soporific effects and their concomitant reduction in cognitive performance.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motion Sickness / physiopathology*
  • Motion Sickness / psychology
  • Yawning*