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