Is Yawning Contagious?

The idea of yawns being contagious is very well believed, so I thought I should research whether or not this phenomenon was real, or just a coincidence. contagious-yawning-chart

Fun fact: humans and chimps (or other types of primates) are the only animals known to yawn!

There are two types of yawning: spontaneous yawning which occurs when on his tired or bored, or contagious yawning when someone yawns after witnessing another individual yawn. Spontaneous yawning is someone one is born doing, while contagious is adapted in early childhood.

A study done at Duke University tested 328 participants. The volunteers had to answer questions concerning their previous energy and empathy yawn1-300x202levels. The participants were to record the amount of times they yawned while watching a three minute movie of other people yawning. Out of the 328 participants, 222 of the volunteers admitted to yawning at least once throughout the video. However, the amount of yawns per person ranged from 0 – 15 times. I watched the video myself ( here it is if you want to test out the experiment) and I yawned twice, but it is also important to note that it is late in the library and I am on very little sleep.

The null hypothesis was that watching someone yawn does not cause the watcher to also yawn. The only slight variable the study was able to find was age, the older the person the less likely they were to yawn. However, that only accounted for a very small percentage of the participants and therefore not a definite cause.

Another interesting aspect to note is that schizophrenics and autistic individuals do not experience contagious yawning. When studying the brain during contagious yawns, mirror neurons  light up in fMRI scans. There are new studies being done to see if mentally ill patients lack or have deficient MNS, which could lead to new research on how to help individuals with these diseases.

Yawning also relates to empathy levels, also known as your ability to feel for others. So if you’re not a contagious yawner, well then you might just be an asshole. A study done in Leeds England tested 80 students, half psych majors and the other half engineering. The students were to sit alone with and undercover assistant who yawned 10 times. They were mts_caramel-721119-emotioneyesswatchthen given a test to record their emotions. The participants were shown 40 different images of eyes and were asked to describe the emotions the eyes showed.

The results of the study were very interesting. The psych majors, who’s futures are most likely going to deal with others feelings, yawned 5.5 times on average while the watching the 10 yawns in comparison to the engineering majors only yawning 1.5 times. In terms of the eyes, the psych majors were able to correctly analyze 28 out of the 40 eye emotions while the engineering majors only got 25 out of the 40. Surprisingly, results did not vary between gender. Brain imaging also highlights that contagious yawns and empathy occurs in the same areas of the brain.

So maybe contagious yawning really is scientific after all. However, much more research still has to be done before there can be and confident claims on the cause. BTW while writing this post, I yawned at least 6 times.



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7 thoughts on “Is Yawning Contagious?

  1. Maura Katherine Maguire

    Wow really intriguing blog post! I never considered the scientific aspect behind these contagious yawns. I find myself always yawning after I catch myself seeing someone yawn whether they be close or far. Even reading this post elicited some uncontrollable yawns. Makes you wonder if you are really yawning because you are tired or it’s just reflex.

  2. Raegan S Pechar

    The concept of contagious yawning is very interesting, and to be honest, idea of yawning and watching other people yawn, made me yawn multiple times while reading this blog. Also side note: your fun fact really stumped me because my dogs and cats yawn CONSTANTLY and I notice because I always laugh (I for some reason find it really entertaining to watch animals yawn lol). I also think it was really interesting to think about it in a sense that yawns aren’t really “contagious” per say, it’s us as humans being empathetic to others. I have to say, I find myself yawning more and more frequently when I see my peers doing it (or my lecture is just really really boring that day). Sometimes I even pick up on it. I see someone yawn and think “wow am I going to too now?”, and I do, always. Here’s an article I found discussing contagious yawning further: (and yes, I yawned while reading it)

  3. Tyler Olson

    We looked at this in a science class of mine in high school. It makes total sense. Outside of yawning, it appears that smiling is contagious too, at least according to this study I found:

    It makes total sense since contagious yawning is associated with a person’s empathy that a smile would be contagious as well. I’ve also noticed that, although I am very sick and cough regularly, I typically cough directly after hearing others cough during class. Could this be due to the same factors as the yawning and smiling?

  4. Colleen Bridget Mcshea

    I definitely find yawning to be contagious as I yawn pretty much every time I watch someone else yawn. I really enjoyed reading this post, but I did stop and think about one thing: your fun fact. Maybe I’m crazy, but I could swear I’ve watched both my dog and my cat yawn several times before. Maybe it’s just something that looks like a yawn, but it’s pretty convincing!

    This article talks about a study done that suggests that dogs and wolves, their close relatives, seem to also yawn contagiously.

    By the way, I yawned 3 times while reading your post!

  5. Michael Gerard Shevlin

    I can think of numerous times when I’ve seen someone yawn, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t help but yawn too. In fact, I would go as far to say that I’ve yawned nearly every time I’ve seen another person yawn. I wondered if there were other body functions that were also contagious, so I did some research. I found that a phenomenon called human mirroring causes us to do things like walk at the same pace as someone or talk in the same tone as someone. While these functions aren’t very similar to yawning, they follow the same sort of contagious effect, which is pretty cool to me.

  6. Matthew Jacobs-Womer

    It’s kind of hard to disagree with contagious yawning after I spent half of my time yawning while reading this article. I have always assumed that yawning was contagious but maybe it goes to more than just yawning. Could it be possible that we just feel the emotions of others around us. Seeing others yawn shows their tired and we respond with a yawn because it is our bodies way of thinking we are tired. I remember when I was younger I was at a funeral for someone that I never knew in my life and I did not know anyone there either (honestly don’t even remember why I was there in general), but I remember after seeing other people get sad I became very sad and started to cry. I had no reason to be upset or sad, but seeing other people who were sad transferred that emotion onto myself. The same process seems to happen when you surround yourself with very positive or negative people- maybe it just works that way for yawning to.

  7. Melanie Dawn Weltner

    I found your blog to be really engaging and an overall enjoyable read! I specifically laughed at your statement “if you’re not a contagious yawner then you’re probably an asshole.” This topic always peeked my interest because I constantly see people yawning and multiple other people following suit shortly after them. Heck, I even find myself falling into this yawning trap as well! I feel like part of the reason for yawning when reading the word yawn or seeing someone else yawn is our mind playing tricks on us or even our natural desire to want to fit in. We yawn when reading the word yawn because well that is what we are supposed to do, right? I sometimes yawn when i see someone else yawn instinctively and it almost feels like I faked it because I felt like I HAD to yawn because they yawned. Weird, right? This article brushes on that idea but specifically states that contagious yawning is often more common in close friends and family. Now that is really strange.

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