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Is Yawning actually Contagious?

Is It True That Yawning Is Contagious?


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Yawning seems to be pretty contagious and more often than not when someone near you yawns, you quickly follow suit and yawn as well. While for the longest time there was no real explanation, a research study lead by a Finnish team in 2005 concluded that there is in fact a reason why it is contagious. They found that a certain area of the brain is triggered when we see someone yawn.

Most often when we see someone yawn and have the need to yawn ourselves, we are unaware of this need. And while it’s possible to be aware, researchers believe that the start of the desire is completely unaware to us. In other words, we are aware of the act of yawning, but not the desire of doing so. This is because signals bypass the mirror neuron system. This is the system that would allow us to consciously understand our acts.

Studies have found that when we see someone yawn, it makes the periamygdala part of our brain motionless. This part of the brain is found on both sides of the brain and aids in the interpretation of visual cues like facial movements. When the periamygdala is active, the natural interpretation of someone yawning is that they are tired. Rather it seems as though this part of the brain remains inactive and does not initially recognize a conscious awareness.

While this doesn’t clarify why yawning is contagious, it does however imply that parts of the brain is receptive to yawning. This begins with the bypass of the mirror neuron system.

Other reasons for why yawning is contagious dates back to thousands of years to the early man. It is hypothesized that it was a way to signify sleep patterns. If more than one person yawned, this meant that several people were tired and it would be time to get some rest. Because a sign of fatigue lowers the ability to ward off danger, a yawn could have meant that it was time to bunker down, find shelter and remove oneself from danger. Therefore people may have evolved due to appropriate sleep and the ability to avoid threat.

To this day, we do not have a clear understanding of why yawns are contagious. More research is needed to clarify our suspicions of this fascinating behavior.

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