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Is yawning contagious?

Whenever I see someone yawn, I feel like I want to yawn too. Why does that happen?

5188 day(s) ago

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Yawing is most definitely contagious. It’s even more contagious than most diseases because, unlike diseases, yawning can be spread over the television or radio. Studies show that 60 percent of people who view or hear a yawn, whether it is in person, live on television, or recorded, will yawn themselves within several seconds. Even newer studies show that humans are not the only animals in which yawning is contagious. The phenomenon has also been observed in chimpanzees.

Now that we know yawning is contagious, the bigger question becomes, “Why?” Unfortunately, science has yet to discover the reason why. People have been fascinated with yawning for thousands of years and have spent just as long trying to figure out what it is. Scientists have lately been focusing on the oddity of how yawning spreads unconsciously. People have no control over their yawn. They can try to stop it from happening but usually fail. People can also try to make themselves yawn voluntarily, but this, too, often fails.

What scientists have discovered so far is that people, and chimps, have a special type of nervous system called a mirror-neuron system. It becomes activated when a person consciously tries to mimic an action or when an action is seen performed by someone else. The strange thing is that yawning completely bypasses this known system. In fact, yawning doesn’t seem to affect any known centers of the brain responsible for every other type of action we may perform.

The purpose of yawning is just as mysterious as its contagiousness. Some scientists theorize that yawning was used by our remote ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago to regulate sleep cycles of tribes or groups. As yawning signals sleep, it catches on, so everyone realizes they must sleep at the same time.

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