If smiling is scientifically proven to be contagious, can the same be said about yawning?
According to researchers from the University of Connecticut, 60 to 70 percent of people surveyed found that seeing a person yawn in real life or in a photo compelled them to yawn as well. For years, scientists attributed yawning as a precursor to sleep, but recent
studies suggest that the act is not related to decreasing energy levels. Rather, “catching” yawns seems to reveal more about one’s personality that one’s sleepiness. According to Connecticut researchers, catching yawns may be an unconscious sign that someone is attuned to other people’s emotions. Investigators backed up this theory in a study conducted in 2010, where they found that most children did not begin “contagious yawning” until they were around four years old–the age when empathy skills generally begin to develop. Researchers also uncovered that young people with autism, who may have trouble feeling empathy, were less likely to catch yawns than their peers. Another theory suggests that contagious yawning is a primitive form of unconscious communication and bonding. A 2010 study found that the number of times parrots yawn contagiously increases when temperature rises. In the study, 16 birds were exposed to four 10-minute intervals of changing temperatures, during which their yawning was found to positively correlate with ambient temperatures during the trial. Researchers believe this behavior may serve as a warning sign to other parrots of potential threats; however, more research is still required.
Although the source of contagious yawning is yet to be confirmed, theories such as the ones provided by researchers at the University of Connecticut provide hope that the cause of this yawning phenomenon will be discovered someday in the near future. Until then, keep catching, and passing, those yawns!
By: Neha Wadhwana’18, Guest Writer