Why Is Yawning So Contagious?


Almost half of all adults yawn after another person yawns as a result of a worldwide occurrence known as “contagious yawning”. But contrary to common belief, a new Duke University Study puts forth that contagious yawning is not majorly linked to variables such as tiredness, energy levels or empathy. Studies before this one have said that there is a link between contagious yawning and empathy.

But, The Duke Center for Human Genome Variation researchers discovered that contagious yawning may reduce as people get older and may not be connected with empathy.

The study, titled “Individual Variation in Contagious Yawning Susceptibility Is Highly Stable and Largely Unexplained by Empathy or Other Known Factors,” was published March 14 in the journal PLOS ONE.

To this day, it is among the top in depth studies to evaluate the variables that affect contagious yawning

 Elizabeth Cirulli, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at the Center for Human Genome Variation at Duke University School of Medicine stated that “The lack of association in our study between contagious yawning and empathy suggests that contagious yawning is not simply a product of one’s capacity for empathy,”

A study done by the University of Connecticut in 2010 showed that majority of children are not susceptible to contagious yawning until they reach about four years of age – and that kids who have autism are not likely to yawn as contagiously than other children.

 A study of about thirty 6 to 15 year old with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by the Connecticut researchers showed that children with more serious autistic symptoms were way less likely to yawn contagiously than their milder diagnosed counterparts.

Contagious yawning occurs only in chimpanzees and humans as a reaction to thinking, hearing or seeing yawning.

Spontaneous yawning usually happens when an individual is bored or tired. Spontaneous yawning is first seen in the womb while contagious yawning does not occur until early age.

The Duke study focused on better explaining how particular factors affect a person’s susceptibility to contagious yawning.

The researchers discovered that particular people were less susceptible to contagious yawns than others. Participants yawned an average of 0-15 times while viewing a video of people yawning. 222 out of the 328 participants yawned at least one time.

Unlike the preceding studies, the Duke researchers found no deep link between contagious yawning and intelligence, time of the day and empathy.

The solitary stand-alone factor that considerably affected contagious yawning was age. As age went up, participants were less susceptible to yawning. Yet, age was solely able to give reason for 8% of the variability in the contagious yawn reaction.

To conclude, there is need for more research on Contagious Yawning to be done.

According to Duke Researcher- Elizabeth Cirruli “Age was the most important predictor of contagious yawning, and even age was not that important. The vast majority of variation in the contagious yawning response was just not explained. ”

Essentially, contagious yawning is still an enigma to scientists.

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