Is Yawning Actually Contagious?

It has always been somewhat accepted that yawning is contagious. Some studies have even gone on to say that the reason an individual yawns when they see another individual yawning is because humans have ingrained empathy in their brain. This empathy causes people to yawn in response to other people yawning to subtly show that they “feel their pain”.

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When I went on the internet to find studies that went more in-depth on exactly why yawning is contagious, I came upon Jared F. Ericksen who conducted an experiment to test whether or not yawning is actually contagious. What I found in this experiment was pretty interesting. He brought 10 different test subjects into a quiet room where he asked them a series of irrelevant questions. He was asking these questions to leave the subjects under the impression that they were in an experiment for an entirely different reason than to see if yawning was contagious. On questions number 5, 15, and 25 Ericksen would yawn in the hopes that it would illicit a yawn from his test subjects.

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It ended up that absolutely none of his subjects yawned in response to him yawning. And so Ericksen was forced to conclude, based off of his study, that yawning is not contagious. He rejected the alternative hypothesis (that yawning is contagious) but I don’t think that Ericksen should accept the null hypothesis (that yawning is not contagious) because there is a chance that this specific experiment is a fluke. Flukes happen 40% of the time in experiments so it isn’t hard to believe that this experiment was. Ericksen’s conclusion goes against many of the scientific articles and published studies that conclude that yawning is actually contagious. So there might be something going on in this experiment that could make Ericksen’s conclusion a false negative. Ericksen’s sample size of ten subjects could be considered small by some people but if absolutely none of the subjects yawned in response to the scientist’s yawn, then I don’t think the sample size is an issue. I think that the reason this experiment turned out to be so unfruitful is because of a lot of confounding variables that Ericksen didn’t take into account when he started the experiment. One confounding variable is the anxiety that probably all of the subjects felt being put on the spot and being asked questions for a scientific experiment. This anxiety probably affected their mindset and made it impossible for them to yawn in accordance with the scientist. Another confounding variable could have been the subject’s need to pay absolute attention so that they were a perfect subject for the false science experiment they thought they were in. They were probably not focused on yawning and completely focused on being the perfect test subject. I think that before we conclude (based off of Ericksen’s study) that yawning is, in fact, not contagious, more experiments need to be conducted. Or, maybe a meta-analyses of different studies and experiments should take place. That way we can compare Ericksen’s study to the studies that conclude that yawning is contagious and then we can come to a concrete decision as to whether yawning is actually contagious or not.142486964-464990

SOURCES:

https://www.usc.edu/CSSF/History/2010/Projects/J0309.pdf

2 thoughts on “Is Yawning Actually Contagious?

  1. Elyssa Paige Woods

    I actually did a blog post on the first blog period http://sites.psu.edu/siowfa15/2015/09/16/is-yawning-contagious/ and I found studies that had evidence on yawning being contagious. My findings were that social bonding experiences lead to a higher percentage of people contagiously yawning. Although this is the case I found it is not 100% proven that this is correct, so more experiments and studies would have to be conducted to find out this information.

  2. Michael Bliss

    This is a very good analysis of an experiment. I agree with the points you made. In addition, this study raises some questions whether certain conditions must be met to create a contagious yawn. Does the yawn viewer have to be well acquainted with the yawner to empathize with them and yawn in response to their yawn? Does the yawn viewer have to be at a certain level of comfort and alertness? These are all factors which should be taken into account when trying to find answers to this interesting question.

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