Thank you for an interesting question! :)
You see someone yawning.
You hear someone yawning.
You read about yawning.
You think about yawning.
Now, you want to yawn. If this describes you, then you have just
"caught" a yawn. Between 40 and 60% of the population is susceptible
to contagious yawns, but the reason why yawns are catching is unknown.
Steven Platek, Ph.D. and a team of researchers from the Department of
Psychology at the State University of New York (Albany, NY)
investigated contagious yawns with a series of experiments. Their data
suggest that being aware of one's own mental state
("self-recognition") and the ability to see things from another
person's point of view ("mental state attribution") may make people
susceptible to contagious yawns.
Dr. Platek and his team tested 65 college students on the Schizotypal
Personality Questionnaire (SPQ). This questionnaire measures
personality traits such as social anxiety, odd behavior,
suspiciousness, odd speech and unusual perceptual experiences. People
with schizophrenia have problems with self-awareness and show little
or no contagious yawning.
Subjects also viewed 24 short videos of other people yawning, laughing
or showing no behavior. The researchers watched the subjects through a
one-way mirror and counted the number of times the subjects yawned,
laughed or did something else.
data support the hypothesis that "self-awareness" is related to
The researchers hypothesized that people who could "put themselves
into other people's shoes" would be more susceptible to contagious
yawns. To study this relationship, the scientists had some subjects
from experiment 1 listen to stories about the beliefs of other people.
The subjects were then asked questions to measure how they understood
that a character in the story could hold a false belief. Other
questions measured how subjects understood that a character in a story
committed a social error (a faux pas).
There was no correlation between the number of contagious yawns and
the ability of a subject to know that a story character held a false
Subjects who had a better understanding that a story character
committed a social error had more contagious yawning.
These data support the hypothesis that "mental state attribution" is
related to contagious yawning.
Self-awareness was measured by the speed at which subjects could
identify their own faces on a computer screen. These self-recognition
speeds were compared to the number of contagious yawns each subject
Subjects who were susceptible to contagious yawns identified their own
faces faster than subjects who were unaffected by yawns.
These data support the hypothesis that "self-awareness" is related to
Why are yawns contagious?
These experiments suggest that contagious yawning is related to a
person's self-awareness and ability to see things from another
person's view. In the words of Dr. Platek and his colleagues:
"Seeing or hearing about another person yawn may tap a primitive
neurological substrate responsible for self-awareness and empathic
modeling which produces a corresponding response in oneself."
The researchers also suggest that animals, such as chimpanzees and
orangutans, who are capable of self-recognition and mental state
attribution should be susceptible to contagious yawns. Perhaps you can
make some observations of such behavior the next time you are at the
Why Are Yawns Contagious?
According to Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology at the
University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and author of Laughter: A
Virtually any stimulus associated with yawns -- including viewing,
reading about, and even thinking about, yawning -- evokes yawns. (Are
you yawning yet?) Yawning spreads in a chain reaction through a group,
a compelling example of human herd behavior and a reminder that we are
not always in conscious control of our actions. The urge to replicate
an observed yawn is clearly an automatic response triggered by our
Studies partially explain the reason for yawning. Although we yawn
more when sleepy or bored, it is unclear whether yawning increases
alertness. And scientific evidence refutes one of the most popular
myths of yawning? that it happens in response to low oxygen or high
carbon dioxide levels in the blood or brain. Test subjects do not yawn
more when breathing air with enhanced levels of carbon dioxide nor do
they yawn less when breathing pure oxygen. One fact explains a lot of
apparently inconsistent data. People yawn most during behavioral
transitions, such as just after waking and shortly before bedtime.
Yawning may help facilitate those changes. Contagious yawning may
synchronize a group's behavior so that, for instance, a whole family
goes to sleep together.
Attack of the contagious yawns
Question. In reading the answer to Why do we yawn?, I was eager to
find out why, then, are yawns contagious? It really seems to be true
that if you watch someone yawn, within moments, you will yawn as well.
It's a very curious thing.
You are not the only curious observer of human behavior; scientists
and others studying yawning seem to have reached a consensus that
yawns are indeed contagious, or at least that people tend to yawn in
groups (a single yawn by one person is usually followed by yawning
from others). The "why" part is a little more controversial. Here are
the three leading theories:
The physiology theory
Yawning is a reflex triggered by the body's need for increased oxygen
(as mentioned in Why do we yawn? in Alice's General Health archive).
In a situation where one is not getting enough oxygen (think stuffy
lecture hall), others are probably also feeling the lack of O2. Seeing
others yawn is a reminder to one's body that its own cells are feeling
deprived, similar to how watching someone else munch a candy bar can
provoke a chocolate craving in one's belly.
The boredom theory
Yawning is a way of displaying to others or ourselves that we find
something tedious or dull. Chances are that if one person finds an
activity mind numbing (go back to that lecture hall again), others are
sure to agree.
The evolutionary theory
Yawning is a behavior left over from our bygone caveperson days, when
it served as some sort of social signal to others in our pack (perhaps
as a display of teeth-baring dominance). When we yawn at others, they
yawn back to return our long-forgotten message.
Remember that none of these theories have been proven, and probably
require much more painstaking research, discussion, regression
analysis, and um÷ linear, uh÷ graphs, and÷ stuff÷ YAAAAWWWNNN!!!
Yawning Is Contagious
Why do we yawn and why are yawns contagious?
Why We Yawn (see photo of Big Cat - Big Yawn!) :)
A Few Cool Yawning Facts:
The average yawn lasts about six seconds.
55 percent of people will yawn within five minutes of seeing someone else yawn.
Blind people yawn more after hearing an audio tape of people yawning.
Reading about yawning will make you yawn.
Olympic athletes often yawn before competition.
why are yawns contagious