Question of the week: Why is yawning contagious?

imagesApril 18, 2014 – Yawning is a force so powerful, that if we see it, we often copy it. It is not something we physically transmit to another person, like a germ that gives you a cold, for example. Yet, we repeat the pattern as if to follow the old adage, “money see, monkey do”.

The experts at explain that yawning is contagious because of the “ancient, deep, and subconscious roots of empathy and social bonding. It is a primal instinct that bonds us together” much like contagious laugher or crying. This seems as logical, although newer research from Duke University found little evidence to back up this theory.

Not a lot is known about why we yawn, but here is what we do know: There are two types of yawns, contagious, which occurs when someone sees another person yawn and spontaneous, which occurs more often when someone is bored or tired.

Fetuses begin spontaneous yawning in the womb at about 11 weeks, and scientists recently dispelled the myth that people yawn to receive more oxygen. Many species of animals yawn spontaneously, while only humans, chimpanzees, and possibly dogs according to Japanese research, yawn contagiously. It has also been proven that yawning becomes contagious by age four, and that kids with autism are less likely to catch yawns than other kids.

Were you able to make it through this blog post without yawning? Perhaps not, as even reading about yawning is enough to make it contagious. I’ve yawned a few times while writing it, too.

It all seems simple enough yet yawning is a complex behavior that may never be explained. We have to accept it as just one of those things.

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