- Is yawning contagious
- Prepare to yawn uncontrollably.
- Dont worry. That statement is not a direct
commentary on what you are about to read.
- As most people may hat noticed, yawning can
have such a strong and immediate impact that
merely reading about it, thinking about it, or
hearing someone else do it is enough to make us
yawn. You can even set up your own little office
experiment to confirm it. Sit at your desk at
about 2 P.M. and observe the rippling chain
reaction that one person's
post-lunch-slump-induced yawn can trigger, much
like a wave at a baseball game.
- And it's a behavior that is not limited to
us jaded modern types. Yawning is a mysterious
act with ancient origins, one that can be seen
in a diverse cross section of the animal kingdom
fish, crocodiles, primates, dogs, even birds.
Yawning has even been observed in newborn babies
and human fetuses.
- So surprisingly, yawning is contagious.
- But the issue is not exactly black and
white. In a series of good, old scientific
experiments, researchers at the State University
of New York found that it's generally people who
score high on tests of self-awareness and
empathy that fall prey to the contagiousness of
yawning. That, they found, applies to about 50
percent of the American population.
- Since people who score high on tests of
empathy are more Likely to be liberals and
Democrats, other studies show, you can carry
these findings a little further and argue that
liberals and Democrats who, go figure, make up
roughly 50 percent of the voting population are
more likely to make each other yawn. Somewhere
in here, there is a joke about Democrats.
- But on to the other 50 percent of the
population. Studies show that people who don't
find yawning contagious are more likely to have,
problems with self-recognition, an extreme
exampie of which is schizophrenics. These are
people who score low on tests of empathy.
- Animals can be infected by the yawn bug too.
One study by researchers at the University of
Stirling in Scotland found that a third of adult
chimps exposed to videos of yawning chimps will
end up yawning themselves.
- But one thing no one can say for sure is why
anyone man, woman, or chimp yawns to begin with.
Conventional wisdom suggests that we yawn when
we are bored. Sure. That's one reason. But
scientists say they have also observed yawning
in professional athletes just before a big
event, in entertainers before they go onstage,
and in dogs getting ready to pounce on one
- The more scientifically minded argue that we
yawn when we have a shortage of oxygen in the
blood or a buildup of carbon dioxide in our
systems. That deep breath and gaping of the
mouth that characterize yawning supposedly
counteract this. But studies have also found
that breathing high levels of carbon dioxide
does not trigger yawning, nor does breathing
high levels of oxygen inhibit it.
- Okay, you say, but how about sleepiness?
Clearly sleepiness must be the underlying cause
of yawning, right? Not exactly. While research
confirms that people really do yawn when they
are sleepy-obviously-it also shows that we yawn
the most in the hour after we wake up. even
after a long, sufficient night of sleep.
- Rest assured, though, there are more than
enough scientists working on this so that one
day the mystery of yawning will be