Are Yawns Contagious?


| 5 Comments

It's a pretty easy thing to catch: it's a yawn. Once you see one person yawning it's almost inevitable that you will start yawning too. Or is it? Could that just be a myth, or is yawning truly contagious?

 

It does seem to have something to do with boredom. In one study, participants were shown either a 30 minute video of a rock video which was extremely stimulating or a 30 minute color bar test pattern without audio, a particularly dry task. Those who watched the color video both yawned significantly more and for a longer period of time.

 

But where does the contagion come in? In one study a man read a ten-minute story to a group of 20 one year olds, 20 two year olds, 20 three year olds, and so on until the group of 20 six year olds. Every 90 seconds the man reading the story yawned intentionally. In the group of 1, 2, and 3 year olds a total of 3 kids yawned back, but then that number drastically increased to about 9 per group of 4, 5, and 6 year olds. This shows that not only does this behavior begin at age four, but it also shows that there is communal aspect to yawning. It is a social behavior that can help promote a sense of community and a way to relieve stress.

 

I can see the potential error in this study if the younger kids simply did not have the attention span to watch a person yawning or to differentiate a yawn from other talking. It is also possible that the older kids were simply not paying attention to the reader or were focusing on the book too much to notice the yawn. I think the percentage would be higher if the focus was more specifically on the yawn.

 

In fact, when one person in a group yawns, fifty percent of the group with yawn within five minutes, and the rest of the group will at least be tempted to yawn. Plus, if you are close with that person, you'll be more tempted to yawn too. Overall the evidence is pretty conclusive that yawning is in fact contagious.


Yawning.jpg

5 Comments

I have always wondered if this common rumor is true because every time I'm yawning it seems like the people around me are also yawning. The study you mentioned above seems very interesting and like it was done pretty well. I would be interested in seeing if they did the same thing with adults because their attention span would be much better than children. This may be a far fetched theory, but maybe yawning isn't as contagious with adults because they have the mind power to fight the urge to yawn? Either way I know I definitely don't have that ability because yawning is definitely a daily thing for me.

Hi Kathleen,
I did a blog post on this topic last blogging period. I didn't see that study on the 30 minute video which I thought was interesting. This doesn't say anything about yawning being contagious. I found the second study as well but I didn't think of the potential of error that you stated. That is a good observation and it could skew the results like you said.

This study is really interesting. I've always heard this rumor and from what I've experienced, I feel as though its true. I usually yawn immediately after seeing someone else yawn. I think it would be interesting to test more adults because of our larger attention span. I don't remember ever following yawns as a child obviously but I see how it can be linked to the shorter attention span.

I found this article very interesting because I am a firm believer in the fact that yawns are contagious. I could be sitting in forum and see someone from across the room yawn and I will too! I always wondered what caused this. Most people will say boredom but I feel like there would be other factors that go into it as well! If there isn't already a study done on this, I think that someone (someone smarter than me) should definitely look into this. As for the study that you mentioned, I agree with the above commenters that it should be done on teens and adults rather than on younger children who do in fact have a shorter attention span!

After reading the word "yawn" several times, I felt the urge to yawn. I tried to hold it back until I saw the picture of the baby yawning. An article I recently read explains that yawning actually cools off our brains slightly. If you see someone around you yawning, your body could subconsciously realize that if their brain is heating up, it's quite likely that your brain also might be warming up. The cooler temperature allows your brain to focus better, which is helpful in survival situations. Interestingly, the article also states that mimicry could be the reason yawns are so "contagious". People who are more empathetic are more likely to mimic the body language of people around them, including yawns.

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