why are yawns so contagious??

First of all, while researching this subject, I yawned like a thousand times. Just hit 1,001. There is very little research about yawning because it doesn't really cause problems for anyone. It is just a mystery that is very contagious. A couple facts about yawns. 1) the average duration of a yawn is 6 seconds 2) yawns become contagious to people between their first and second years of life 3) people assume that we yawn because our bodies are trying to get rid of carbon dioxide and take in more oxygen
The theory on why yawns seem to be so contagious is dated back in evolutionary history. The yawn was used to serve of the social behavior of groups of animals. When one member of the group yawned to signal and event, the rest would yawn. Kind of like howling at the moon. I really couldn't find any other plausible explanations, what did everyone else find? and how many times did you yawn while reading this?


I kid you not, I yawned approximately 4 times while reading this! I looked online, curious as to why people yawn all of the time! This one article from scienceline.org written by Andrea Anderson, said, "Roughly half of people yawn when watching videos of others yawning. Some researchers hypothesize that contagious yawning is more common in people with greater empathy - the ability to recognize and share other people's emotions..."

Another part that really fascinated me in this article, corresponding to the idea of empathy, is that children that seem to have autism spectrum disorder have actually shown less signs of being able to communicate and even socialize with others based on a paper in Biology Letters. According to Anderson, "the authors found that children with autism yawned spontaneously about as often as children without autism. But when watching videos of yawning adults, children with autism yawned fewer times than other children. They believe this supports the claim that contagious yawning is based on the capacity for empathy."

Finally, in this article, they said that, "British and Japanese researchers showed six female chimps videos of other female chimps that were either yawning or just opening their mouths." So, it's not just humans that find yawns to be contagious! If you wanted to read about the Chimp experiment feel free!

Weird. I actually did yawn 4 times and had to hold a few in.

Also, saw this article about a Finnish study:

"So what gives? In an effort to find the answer, the Finnish government recently funded a brain scanning study. The results turned up some hard-to-interpret, possible clues. It also confirmed the obvious: yawn contagion is largely unconscious. Wherever it might affect the brain, it bypasses the known brain circuitry for consciously analyzing and mimicking other people’s actions.

This circuitry is called the “mirror-neuron system,” because it contains a special type of brain cells, or neurons, that become active both when their owner does something, and when he or she senses someone else doing the same thing.

Mirror neurons typically become active when a person consciously imitates an action of someone else, a process associated with learning. But they seem to play no role in yawn contagiousness, the researchers in the new study found. The cells are have no extra activity during contagious yawning compared with during other non-contagious facial movements, they observed.

Brain activity “associated with viewing another person yawn seems to circumvent the essential parts of the MNS [mirror neuron system], in line with the nature of contagious yawns as automatically released behavioural acts—rather than truly imitated motor patterns that would require detailed action understanding,” wrote the researchers, with the Helsinki University of Technology and the Research Centre Jülich, Germany. The findings are published in the February issue of the research journal Neuroimage."


Not going to lie, I HATE that I yawned for this post. I did not want to so bad, but the suggestion was just too powerful. I don't understand why they're so "contagious" either; yawns are supposed to be used to allow more flow of oxygen to get to the brain. It seems interesting that something that can be "caught" actually serves a good function in our bodies.

I yawned three times while reading this post! And I've always had the same question, why is it so contagious?? I actually watched a youtube video a few years ago that is pretty funny. Everytime I watch it I get this tingly feeling in my throat that I try to hold back, but just can't!! Here's the link..


see how well you can do!

I am proud to say that I didn't yawn once! But I am intrigued as to why people still yawn. It seems like if it was an evolutionary need it might have been weeded out already because if we want to signal for an event thats happening or going to happen, we have phones, texts, twitters, tv, etc. To me, the theory about needed carbon dioxide to leave the brain makes sense, but I'm sure the real reason is out there waiting to be discovered. My real interest though, is why and how can yawns be contagious? I think this is such an interesting and clever thing to write an entry about because while it happens to us all the time and yet I've never really asked myself why this happens until now.

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