Have you ever wondered why yawns seem to be contagious? Scientists have many different theories, ranging from it being a inborn mimic response to changes in pressure in the room when someone yawns. Unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence to suggest either of these theories. As a matter of fact, there is little to no response in the part of the brain that causes us to mimic behavior when a second person yawns in response to another. What causes us to catch a yawn is not known for sure, but there is evidence to suggest that it is linked to empathy.
In a study conducted by Steve Platek, a cognitive neuroscientist at Drexel University, may have revealed the real reason that yawns seem to be contagious. It appears according to Platek’s study that people with higher empathy are more prone to “catch” a yawn. An MRI of people who were induced to yawn by looking at videos and listening to audio of other people yawning showed that the yawn response was linked to the area of the brain responsible for empathy. A new study actually shows that people with autism are generally not susceptible to contagious yawning. This is likely to be due to the fact that they are less likely to be in touch emotionally with the people around them.
Now I have to ask. Did you yawn while you were reading this? If so, it is likely that you are highly empathetic. Want to read more? Here are some links with more information.
Contagious Yawning – Howstuffworks.com
Yawn Contagion – NewYorkTimes.com