Yawn and Pass It On

Ever sit in class after a long night "studying" and let out a big yawn?  Ever witness the person next to you do the exact same thing merely seconds later?  For too long I have wondered if yawning is contagious, but I may have finally found my answer...

Finnish scientists have recently conducted studies to explain this suspicious behavior.  They first believed that the circuitry called the "mirror-neuron system" caused the impulse.  Basically, subjects would watch a yawn take place and subconsciously feel the need to execute the same action.  However, after further experimentation, they discovered that there was no correlation in the brain scans they ran.  After a closer evaluation, they found that witnessing someone yawn deactivates a portion of the brain called the left periamygdalar region.  The repetitive deactivation is the first real evidence scientists have of yawning actually being "contagious."

For more information and about contagious yawning, and for the information found on this page, go to: http://www.world-science.net/exclusives/050309_yawnfrm.htm 


I have always heard that yawning is contagious. I am surprised it has not been totally proven yet. I am kind of confused as to what exactly the deactivation of of the left periamygdalar region does to your brain. I've also always wondered why we yawn. Maybe we've taught ourselves that yawning is contagious so we subconsciously make ourselves yawn when we see someone else doing it- just a thought.

Hey Caitlyn! I am so glad someone chose to write about this topic. I was actually going to take a crack at it, but I guess you beat me to it! I have also always found this subject so interesting. Personally, like many others, I have found myself yawning right after someone else has. I would always think to myself, am I doing this because it is actually contagious and I cannot help it, or am I just doing this because I think I am "suppose" to do it? I found your post very informative and it is good to know that there are scientists out there who tried to figure this confusing issue out. I find it interesting that these Finnish scientists thought like me in that they believed that subjects would see a yawn and subconsciously think they should do the same. Now I am glad to know that it is actually contagious due to a part of the brain that deactivates when we see someone else yawn. I actually followed up on your post and found an article that discusses yawning and even includes a video. Another similar article from the UK reveals why animals like dogs tend to yawnafter their owners do.

Do you think it is contagious from humans to dogs too? My dog yawns ALL the time and sometimes I catch myself yawning after watching him do it. I find that yawning allows for the deepest breath possible, which feels good, so maybe when people see a yawn, they yawn too because it is a rewarding feeling?

Leah, I always thought this was a cool topic! I've heard so many different explanations for why people yawn but this one definitely sounds the most legitimate. I once had someone tell me it was caused by a lack of oxygen in the air! Also, I did some research online and several of the links, including this one from the Health section of the New York Times ,found that yawning may also be linked back to a heart condition!

I love this topic! I've always believed that yawns are contagious--just seeing that picture of the yawn has made me feel the need to do it several times--but it still seems weird that it's been scientifically proven. Also, reading through this has made me wonder why we yawn--is it because we're tired? I don't feel tired right now, but I can't stop yawning! According to this article Yawning Excessively, normal yawning is caused by tiredness or watching someone else yawn. However, excessive yawning can be caused by an actual sleeping disorder along with other conditions.

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