There have been many times that I’ve been in a lecture hall and I see someone across the room yawn and two seconds later I see someone close to them yawn. Why is that? I’ve also noticed that that when I’m aware that someone around me yawned, I usually don’t yawn, but if my attention is elsewhere then there’s higher possibility that I’ll yawn. Is yawning really contagious?
The reasons we yawn in the first place usually have to do with how bored or tired we are. The idea that we yawn due to lack of oxygen in the brain is a myth. Another possible reason for yawning is to cool down the brain because more people yawn in the winter than in the summer. As for contagious yawning, that doesn’t start until were about four.
A study was done to test how contagious yawning really is. There were 328 participants in the study who all watched a 183 second video that included images and video of people of different ages, genders, and ethnicities yawning. The two categories the subjects were put into were people who contagiously yawned at least once and those who didn’t yawn at all. They used a p-value of 0.01. 67.7% of the participants contagiously yawned between one and fifteen times. The p-value was statistically significant at 0.002. The study also showed that younger people contagiously yawned more than older people.
Although yawns are often correlated with boredom, that is not always the case. Contagious yawning is related to empathy. You’re more likely to contagiously yawn if someone you know personally has just yawned. In fact, it’s possible that yawning is a way of internal communication. So although there is no specific reason as to why we yawn, at least it’s something we all share.
P.S. I probably yawned 20 times writing this blog