Is Yawning Contagious?

Is Yawning Contagious?


-By Sayan Prajapati

Have you ever yawned with the biggest opening of your mouth and felt so relaxed but yet exhausted? Moreover, have you ever actually yawned just because you saw someone yawn? Well, if you have been a victim of any of these, then let’s explore the reason behind Yawning!

Nearly any animal that has a spine can yawn! Snakes do it to realign their jaws after a meal, penguins do it as rituals of mating and guinea pigs do it to show frustration and anger. But why exactly is it that human beings yawn? And why is yawning contagious? Although there have been multiple researches to find out the reason behind a yawn, there has not been a concrete answer to this question. But there has been a lot of theories and experiments showing various results. So, today we’ll be talking about major two science behind yawning!

Firstly, Scientists now believe that yawning is to do with the physiology of the cooling of the brain. Just like how a computer works best at a certain temperature, the same way our brains also work best at certain temperature and tries to avoid overheating. So when you yawn, it increases your heart rate, blood flow and use of muscles in the face that are essential for cooling your brain. On top of that, inhaling the cold air can directly change the temperature of the blood in our head. Moreover, the research conducted by Andrew Gallup from the Department of Psychology, State University of New York at Albany have found that participants who put warm pack on their head yawn 41% more, whereas the ones who put an ice pack yawned 9% of the time. So if your head is already cold, you are less likely to yawn.

Another reason for yawning is believed to be contagious yawning. Contagious Yawning is triggered by a specific stimulus, an initial yawn. It is more like a fixed pattern or a reflex, meaning if you yawn it makes me yawn. And like that a domino effect occurs, where one yawns and as the reflex is triggered another one yawns. But once a yawn is triggered it is basically impossible to not yawn. But an interesting fact is that if you touch your tongue while yawning, it can stop the yawn. Contagious yawning is also believed to occur due to empathy. Contagious yawning begins in children from the age of 4-5. It is also in this age that the development of emotion and empathetic behavior begin. From the research conducted by Department of Cognitive and Behavioral Science from University of Tokyo found that the children who are born with empathy related disorders such as Autism, are comparatively less likely to catch a contagious yawning than other children from the same age group.

New statistical models showed that the rate at which people yawned contagiously was highest in response to kin, then friends, then acquaintances, and lastly strangers. The findings suggest that yawning is a form of empathizing with people experiencing a feeling, which—in the case of yawning—usually means stress, anxiety, boredom, or fatigue. A Researcher of the Natural History Museum at the University of Pisa in Italy stated that the important point is that by reenacting the mechanism, it's like you share emotions, so your response is higher because you mirrored each other's emotions. 

Even dogs are used to copy the yawn of their owners opposed to the yawn of the strangers as suggested by Department of Psychology, University of Nebraska.

Although there different point of view from various researchers for the reason someone yawns, more research is needed to shed light upon this topic for better understanding. Next time you happen to yawn, take a second to realize what had just happened! Were you thinking about a yawn? Were you tired so you yawned? Did someone near you yawned? Was that person a stranger or someone close? And are you yawning right now?

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