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Is Yawning Contagious?

Updated on September 17, 2012
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According to research performed at New York State University, between 40 and 60 percent of the population seems to find yawning contagious.

Researchers from the State University of New York in Albany tested people to find out why some are susceptible to contagious yawning and deduced that self-aware or empathetic people are more likely to catch yawns.

Also, Ronald Baenninger, a professor in the psychology department at Temple University in Pennsylvania, has conducted a study to see if the contagion works between species. He and his students went to the zoo to observe whether humans would yawn when the animals did. A few people yawned in response to a lion's yawn, but the lion never replicated the humans' behavior, Baenninger said. There is some evidence that when one ape yawns, others will too.

Dr. William Broughton, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of South Alabama Knollwood Hospital, said the action of a mouth opening is not what compels others to yawn, Broughton said. Studies have demonstrated that showing someone a photo of a wide-open mouth does not induce a yawn. Also, holding a hand over the mouth while yawning doesn't prevent it from being contagious, Broughton said.

A scientific look at the issue is this: The Finnish government recently funded a brain scanning study that shows yawn contagion is largely unconscious. Wherever it might affect the brain, it does not affect the known brain circuitry for consciously analyzing and mimicking other people's actions; this circuitry is called the "mirror-neuron system."

The researchers found that yawning seems to activate at least one brain area, which is called the superior temporal sulcus. Even more relevant was the apparent deactivation of another brain area, the left periamygdalar region. The more strongly a participant reported wanting to yawn in response to another person's yawn, the stronger was this deactivation.

Studies on physical brain activity related to yawn contagious seems to be inconclusive.

Some scientists believe yawning came to be a method to communicate levels of alertness to each other and coordinate sleeping times.

It's also been suggested contagious yawning could be a result of an unconscious herding behaviour, a way to communicate to those around us, similar to when flocks of birds take flight at the same time.

Mythbusters - Is Yawning Contagious?

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    • Stacie Naczelnik profile image

      Stacie Naczelnik 9 years ago from Seattle

      Interesting information. I had also heard that the "contagious" part of yawning comes from empathy. Whenever I "catch" someone else's yawns, I think about how empathetic I am. Ha.

    • SunSeven profile image

      SunSeven 9 years ago from Singapore / India

      Very interesting indeed. Thank you glassvisage for answering my request. Best Regards.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 9 years ago from North America

      I love that picture! I've joined your fan club.

    • luxSmee profile image

      luxSmee 8 years ago

      My doctor informed that yawning is contagious. It appears to be an accepted medical fact.

    • Jane Grey profile image

      Ann Leavitt 7 years ago from Oregon

      Fascinating!

      Also loved your concise writing style and well-researched stats.

    • Which4u profile image

      Which4u 7 years ago from Leicester, UK

      This headline genuinely made me yawn!

    • weblog profile image

      weblog 7 years ago from 1India

      I've always wondered about it. Thanks for the great hub.

      Thumbs up!

    • profile image

      James 7 years ago

      Yawning is undisputably contagios, I have never seen any even vaguely convincing arguments explaining why, I do however have my own theory( not based on any research as such but follows accordingly.)

      What is yawning? people have tried to explain it's immediate effects etc. but I think people should also think about what Yawning is most comparaable to, my answer is ........Vomiting. The action a person makes when yawning is immensly like that of a person vomiting, essentialy wretching, (yawn too much repeatadly and you will even feel slightly sick.) Now suppose it's a feature of our brains means we vomit when other things around us are seen to vomit, this is a useful behavioral feature because animals living in groups might well share the same immediate food source (same deer or meat etc.) If the meat is tainted and one of them detects this and vomits, it might be beneficial to the others if they vomit and not risk any contamination themselves.

      This is just my own theory, I don't neccesarily believe it, it's just an Idea I had that made some sense and appeared to be better than many possible solutions

    • glassvisage profile image
      Author

      glassvisage 7 years ago from Northern California

      Thank you all for your comments and for stopping by!

    • debbiesdailyviews profile image

      debbiesdailyviews 6 years ago

      That was really interesting. I love yawning. It's comforting, and cosy.

      I know that there is on the market a book of photo's of lot's of children yawning.. it's marketed for bedtime stories to get the children sleepy.

      I thought that was a great idea.

      I think the Author came from a sleepy town, but woke up rich over night. And good on that writer, or would that be photographer, which ever. brilliant mind.

      Another great Hub.

    • LailaK profile image

      LailaK 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Believe it or not, I started yawning just from seeing the picture in the hub! Hehe...anyhow, this is very interesting; very valuable info about empathetic people being more likely to yawn! Thanks for sharing!

    • glassvisage profile image
      Author

      glassvisage 5 years ago from Northern California

      Thanks everyone! Laila, I did the same thing!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      A great hub and thank you for sharing.Here's to so many more for us both to share on here.

      Take Care and enjoy your day.

      Eddy.

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