• Question: why is yawning contagious?

    Asked by chloe101 to Ahmed, Francesca, George, James, Nitheen on 13 Nov 2014. This question was also asked by Tír Na nÓg.
    • Photo: Francesca Paradisi

      Francesca Paradisi answered on 13 Nov 2014:

      I asked this myself, the answer is nobody knows!

    • Photo: James Sullivan

      James Sullivan answered on 13 Nov 2014:

      There’s a theory that it’s down to empathy.

      We see someone yawning and we empathize with them – and we recognise (and begin to feel) their emotions.

      Luthur – a BBC crime drama – had a good episode where the main detective knew a suspect was hiding something from him because she didn’t return a yawn – meaning she wasn’t empathizing with him.

    • Photo: Nitheen Kaperi

      Nitheen Kaperi answered on 13 Nov 2014:

      Hi Chloe,

      Our ancestors who lived in caves often had low oxygen and developed yawning as a social mechanism to counter it.

    • Photo: Ahmed Osman

      Ahmed Osman answered on 17 Nov 2014:

      Hi Chloe 101,
      Spontaneous yawning typically occurs when someone is tired or bored. Spontaneous yawning is first observed in the womb, while contagious yawning doesn’t begin until early childhood. The Duke study aimed to better define how certain factors affect someone’s susceptibility to contagious yawning.

      The researchers found that certain individuals were less susceptible to contagious yawns than others. On average, participants yawned between zero and 15 times while watching a 3-minute video of people yawning. Of the 328 people studied, 222 contagiously yawned at least once. If you’d like to test your susceptibility to contagious yawning, watch this “Yawn-O-Meter” video. How long did you last before yawning?