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This is a something that we all know, right? Yawning is contagious and we’ve all felt it. It only takes one sleepy friend to yawn and the whole room will suddenly begin yawning. Have you ever asked yourselves how is this even possible? There are a few studies behind this question. Some assumed that contagious yawning has to do with empathy, tiredness, low energy levels and anything of that sort: just variables. Another recent study shows that this contagion decreases with age, so the association with empathy no longer stands. Contagious yawning is not just something funny that you can joke about. It is also something quite important, since researchers believe that a better understanding of the biological facts involved in it could help us cure serious illnesses such as schizophrenia and autism. A 2010 study shows that we’re not prone to contagious yawning until we’re about four years old. Also, children with autism are less likely to yawn when others in the room are yawning.
Some people yawn only when they see a picture of a person yawning or when they hear the word “yawn”. Even I, as I am writing this, I started yawning out of nowhere. Yes, I did. Well, if a chimpanzee could read this, he would also start yawning as it is proven that chimpanzees are also the subject of contagious yawning. Now, if we really want to get more in depth into this matter, why is yawning contagious, let’s just start with one simple question: what is spontaneous yawning?
Mostly, people yawn when they’re tired or bored and it is first observed in the womb. Yes, we also yawn spontaneously in the womb! Contagious yawning cannot be observed in the womb, obviously, and it cannot be observed at early ages, as well. Also, some people are more susceptible to contagious yawns than others.
Your brain is programmed to do it
There is one theory that speaks of how contagious yawning is actually a biological heritage from our primitive times which served as a means of unconscious communication and bonding between our ancestors. This is way back when there was no telephone or Facebook, no written word or even spoken words, but our people had to communicate so that they could stay together, safe and sound. There is also a 2010 study on parrots that can tell us something on contagious yawning. 16 parrots were exposed to 10 minutes of temperature changing, 4 times in a row. The more the temperature raised, the more they started yawning. This might give us a hint that they were actually trying to warn their peers of some imminent danger.
Or maybe you’re just young
As you have probably come to this conclusion, there is no real, strong theory of why there is such a thing as contagious yawning. Researchers are still trying to figure that out and are making assumptions based on their researches’ findings. Some results show that the younger you are, the more likely you are to have contagious yawning. It might have to do with the amount of attention that you unconsciously pay to others’ behaviour. As you grow older, you get tired of these kind of things and yawning is no longer a contagious business.
All in all, further research needs to be done on the matter before we can say clearly “this is the cause of contagious yawning”. Meanwhile, we’ve got a question for you: “How many times have you yawned during the reading of this article? Once? Twice? Too many times? You just can’t help it, right? And sometimes you don’t even realize why you’re yawning.