Why Is Yawning Contagious?

Generally, yawning is associated with boredom, tiredness and lack of stimulation. But why is it that when someone in the room yawns, its sets off a chain reaction and many others follow?

Well, scientists have come up with 3 theories to help explain why yawning is contagious. You decide which you like best! 

1. The Evolutionary Theory- Like other animals that yawn (all vertebrates[fish, chimpanzees, dogs. . .]) we yawn to show our teeth, intimidate others and express dominance. So why is yawning contagious? According to this theory, one person yawns after another to subconsciously show their dominance. This theory explains why dogs yawn right before they attack and why olympic athletes usually yawn right before their event. I like this theory because it takes an evolutionary perspective and it takes our instinctual animal behaviors into consideration.

2. The Brain-Cooling Theory- Yawning is the body’s mechanism to cool the brain. In a study done in 2007, participants had cold packs applied to their foreheads while they watched videos of people yawning. The cold packs practically eliminated contagious yawning. According to this theory, yawning decreases brain temperatures which allows for the brain to function more efficiently. So why is yawning contagious? This theory doesn’t really explain why yawning is contagious, but it gives an interesting reason physiologically that may one day be tied to why yawning is contagious. I think this is an interesting study and that more research needs to be done, but according to this theory there is no explanation as to why yawning is contagious.

3. Theory of Empathy- Yawning when others do is a sign of empathy and social bonding. According to a new study, yawning is a shared experience that promotes social bonding. Specifically, yawning diffuses stress after a period of being on high alert and spreads a feeling of calm throughout a group. So why is yawning contagious? According to this theory, those who are no longer on high alert are most likely to yawn after another person because it diffuses any tension and it brings calmness to a group. I like this theory because it makes sense and it really explains why yawning is contagious. Those that are most comfortable with the environment will yawn and those that are still on high alert will not.

How many times did you yawn just by reading this?!?!

What do you guys think? Do you like this? How about a question you would like me to answer for next week’s blog.

Sources Used-

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/03/really-the-claim-yawning-cools-the-brain/

http://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/question5721.htm

http://news.discovery.com/human/yawning-social-behavior.html

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11 thoughts on “Why Is Yawning Contagious?

  1. I cant tell you how many times this has happened to me. It is really good to hear that someone else noticed this as well and took the time to go more into depth about the subject. Its great to hear some of the theories behind what makes yawning contagious.

  2. I have been wondering why yawning is contagious and could never understand why. I like your blog because every time there is a new post, I always learn something new.

  3. I’m actually guilty of having yawned once during this! 🙂 I like the idea that yawning is a part of social bonding. That’s a theory that I have never heard before and found very interesting.

  4. This is so great! It is something I have always wondered and its exactly true! No one knows exactly whey yawning is contagious, but we do know that it is! Maybe its just a mental thing, like when people see someone yawn they feel the need to yawn? And I do not even realize that I am tired, until I see someone yawn and then I know its coming! Im so glad you chose to do a blog on this topic!

  5. This is really interesting! like others have said, I too have wondered why yawning is contagious.
    It’s so weird if you really think about the act of yawning, and how others do it too. I once found myself yawning after a character in a movie yawned. I thought that was so bizarre.

  6. Hahaha….awesome post! I’ve heard about the dominance one and I’ve also heard something that you yawn because your brain wants more air and forces you to take a big breathe (?). Weird. I like that you found three theories, all of which are interesting and were fun to read.

    • Yea I actually know what you’re talking about. While I was doing my research I read about that theory, where the brain forces us to take a deep breath to take in more oxygen, but it was disproved in a study done in 2008 or 2009.

  7. I’m guilty of yawning too 😛
    Your blog really interests me (especially as a biology major)! I really liked how you provided three very different perspectives – one based on evolution, one on bodily function, and one based on environment. I found the evolution one particularly entertaining, because I find it amusing when we show such primal characteristics. Here’s a youtube channel I found that has a similar theme; you should check it out!
    http://www.youtube.com/user/asapscience

  8. I really like the concept of your blog. Every post is always interesting, and I look forward to reading your blog in the future. The post about yawning was very interesting!. I now have a better understanding of why people really yawn when someone else does!

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