Why Is Yawning Contagious?

Why Is Yawning Contagious?

(AscendHealthy.com) – We’ve all been there: We’re in a room with other people, perhaps an office meeting or even a church sermon. We see someone yawn, and oh no! We find ourselves yawning as well.

Giving in to a yawn when we’re alone? No problem. But what makes us yawn when we see others perform this action? Find out the answer below.

What Makes Us Yawn?

On average, we yawn 20 times a day. And although we begin yawning even before we are born, scientists still don’t know exactly why we yawn.

One possible reason, though, focuses on temperature. Researchers came up with the thermoregulatory theory after studying pedestrians’ yawns in different seasons.

The pedestrians yawned more in the summer. Evaluating various factors, the researchers reported that the weather, rather than seeing others yawn, seems to be the best way to predict yawning frequency.

Other reasons we yawn might include:

  • Fatigue: When we are tired, our brain functions more slowly. Our body temperature may drop, causing us to yawn.
  • Boredom: Feeling bored may cause our minds to lack stimulation. That sensation might result in yawning.
  • Contagion: Oops, they did it again: yawn, that is. When we are in the same environment as others, seeing them yawn may cause us to mimic that action.
  • Alertness: Ever yawned while you’re still in bed as you try to wake up? Our body may sense the need to feel alert, causing us to yawn to expand our lungs and feel energized.

Why Is Yawning Contagious?

Just like a loud sneeze (ah-choo!), a yawn can attract attention at the most unwanted times. But in contrast to bodily functions like sneezes, our yawns may cause others to yawn as well.

So why, exactly, does yawning make those around us suddenly need to imitate that action? Scientists have several different theories on why yawning is contagious:

  • Mirroring: One study determined that a concept called “social mirroring” may account for why we yawn when we see others act. In addition to yawning, social mirroring accounts for how we may instinctively imitate others’ actions in multiple ways, like crossing one leg over the other when we see someone else adjust their body.
  • Bonding: We’re in a store or out for a walk, and someone smiles at us. Instinctively, we smile in return. That tendency to respond to someone’s facial expression also may account for the likelihood that when we see someone yawn, we yawn as well.
  • Empathizing: When researchers studied chimpanzees, they found that some of the adult females experienced contagious yawning. Their babies did not. Scientists concluded that responding to yawning by imitating that action may be a mature sign of empathy. And just as with the chimps, humans who mimic others’ yawns may have a higher level of empathy.

Yawning at the wrong time and place may make us feel embarrassed. But we might take pride in recognizing that only humans and a few species of animals are evolved enough to respond to others’ yawns by mirroring their actions. So the next time you yawn, and someone asks if you’re bored, just respond, “No, I’m empathizing with you!”

~Here’s to Your Healthy Ascension

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