Yawning – Why is it contagious?


Yawning. It’s contagious. Next time you see someone yawn, try your best to not yawn as well. It is actually a lot harder than it sounds! Sometimes even just reading about it can trigger a physical response in the form of a yawn. But the question remains – how is it that we can “catch” a yawn from other people? Some scientists theorize that yawning is actually a specific form of social bonding. This historically shows our empathy to other members of the same species. In addition, it has also been shown to diffuse stress after periods of time being on high alert, and this feeling of calm can spread throughout a group.

Whilst yawning is not only a “contagious” function, but also something we experience spontaneously throughout our lives, scientists have not been able to provide a definitive explanation for it. All vertebrates experience yawning, however only chimpanzees, humans and dogs have shown signs of contagious yawning. We see more evidence in the idea that it is a sign of empathy in humans when we look at the fact that children with autism are half as likely to “catch” yawns, and that children with extreme autism almost never do. This highlights the theory that suggests that yawning is tied to subtle emotional links, which some autistic children might be unable to catch on to..

Regardless of why, it is quite obvious that a yawn can be infectious! Do a test – yawn in front of your colleagues or a crowd of people – see how far that yawn spreads!

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