Is Yawning Contagious?
Is Yawning Contagious?
Almost all of us know what it's like to yawn when we see someone else yawning. It’s something we can’t seem to control, which makes many people wonder if yawning is contagious. According to recent research published in Frontiers in Psychology, yawning is contagious, and even more so among friends and family members with strong bonds. They should know too because the researchers studied over 2000 bouts of yawns for 9 years. That’s a whole lot of yawns.
There are a few different theories behind why people yawn, including instinctively showing empathy. This new study’s findings supported this theory of emotional bias after monitoring how contagious just hearing a yawn was between people who were strangers, and people who were friends and family. The results showed an increase in contagious yawning between friends and family members when compared to strangers, suggesting our emotional bonds influence whether or not we will yawn when we hear someone else yawning.
Another popular and scientifically supported theory about why people yawn and why it seems to be contagious has to do with regulating brain temperature. That’s right, yawning is linked to cooling your brain down when it gets overheated. A famous study in the world of sleep science, released in 2014, was published in Physiology and Behavior detailing proof that both spontaneous and contagious yawning are “involved in brain thermoregulation”. That’s scientist's talk for heating and cooling the brain.
In a sample of 120 participants, people self-reported yawning during specific temperature ranges throughout winter and summer. Yawning was much more commonly reported during the winter at 41.7%. Summer reports for yawning were only 18.3%, showing a significant difference between the likelihood of you yawning as a response to your body temperature.
Essentially, yawning is is like adjusting the thermostat for your brain. You seem to yawn more when your brain gets too cold. The act of yawning brings in air to help balance your brain’s temperature. This makes sense, but how does adjusting your internal thermostat cause someone else to do the same, almost uncontrollably?
This seems to be because we all operate at the same body temperature. Chances are when we see or hear someone around us yawn, the temperature around both people is the same. When we respond by yawning it could be our body’s way of recognizing a need to balance our brain’s temperature, and instinctively taking care of the action for us. We’re known to yawn when we get tired, but apparently, it’s the brain slowing down and our temperature lowering along with it that causes us to yawn, and the same process goes for when we get bored.
No matter what the exact reason we yawn is, it’s interesting to know how contagious it can be, even if we only hear it, and especially if the person yawning is a friend or family member. If you find yourself yawning along frequently, it could be a sign to warm up. If you’re yawning a lot around other people, it might just be a sign you’re surrounded by people you know and love.
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