Love a Good Yawn and a Good Mystery?

Do you remember the last time you saw someone yawn? Bet you did the same thing a few seconds later, too!  It’s funny how contagious the act of yawning can be, and surprisingly, the practice isn’t unique to humans. Chimpanzees, dogs, and fish do the same thing, and no one knows exactly why it happens. Talk about the power of suggestion!

Yawning and Brains

Some researchers have tied the “echo phenomenon” to the area of our brains that is responsible for our motor skills. As the term indicates, we “echo” another person’s actions just like we did as kids playing that annoying game of repeating everything your friend said.  Scientists refer to that process as echolalia, and it is also connected to yawning.

Yawning Mystery 1

University of Nottingham

There is no known reason for this contagious habit; however, we do know that you are more likely to mimic a friend or family member than you are a stranger. The University of Nottingham found 36 individuals to participate in their yawn study. The dirty details involve Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), so we’ll just give you a quick summary:

·         The participants all watched videos of people yawning and were instructed to either fully yawn if they were so moved, or they were told to try and resist yawning.

·         Full yawns, attempts to avoid yawning, and not yawning at all were all counted and recorded.

·         TMS helped to prove that excitement of the cortical brain region increased the propensity to yawn.

·         On a somewhat unrelated note, these studies are helping to define work with Tourettes.  By reducing excitability, we may also be able to reduce the ticks that occur in Tourettes.

Duke University

The Duke Center for Human Genome Variation also conducted studies that yielded results that indicated contagious yawning is not clearly related to variables like energy levels, empathy, or feeling tired. And the phenomenon generally decreases with age, and that only accounted for about eight percent of the variants. The Duke researchers also noted that contagious yawning and its biology could be helpful in treating autism and schizophrenia. People with those disorders tend not to be impacted by the alleged contagious yawn.

Studies have also been performed at the University of Oxford and the University of Connecticut; however, we all agree that more studies are needed to come to valid conclusions.

Yawning Mystery 2


There are several things that trigger the urge to yawn in the first place, they are the things you might expect like boredom, feeling tired or the temperature in the room. As you might have realized, the cooler temperatures tend to help us avoid yawning. Another interesting trigger may be that we are unconsciously trying to regulate the temperature in our brains. Taking in ambient air via our mouth or noise helps to soothe our minds.

We are all susceptible to yawning when we see others do it. However, we just don’t fully understand why yawning is so contagious. Do you have a theory to solve the mystery?

What Do You Think?

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