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Première conférence internationale sur le bâillement
First International Conference on Yawning
Paris 24 - 25 juin 2010
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The Social, Evolutionary, and Neuroscientific Facets of Contagious Yawning
Steven M. Platek
Associate Professor of Psychology, Georgia Gwinnett College, Lawrenceville, GA 30043 USA
Contagious yawning is a common phenomenon affecting upwards of 60% of healthy humans. It has also been observed, at a lesser rate, in great apes and other primates. Here I summarize the suggestion that contagious yawning is a primitive expression of social cognition, namely empathy. Susceptibility to contagious yawning is correlated with speed to recognize one's own face, theory of mind processing and is also associated with activation in regions of the brain that have been associated with social cognitive processes. This suggests that contagious yawning may be an evolutionarily old process that begat a higher level of social cognition in certain species.
Yawn! Yawn! Yawn! Yawn! Yawn! Contagious Yawn! a blog

Contagious yawning, the onset of a yawn triggered by seeing, hearing, reading, or thinking about another person yawn is a well-documented phenomenon. The mechanisms that drive contagious yawning are as yet unknown, but there is recent evidence of a link between contagious yawning and self-processing (S.M. Platek, S.R. Critton, T.E. Myers, G.G. Gallup Jr., Contagious yawning: the role of self-awareness and mental state attribution, Cogn. Brain Res. 17 (2003) 223-227.) that is negatively impacted by schizotypal personality traits. The neural substrates involved in contagious yawning, however, are unknown. Using fMRI, we show that viewing someone yawn evokes unique neural activity in the posterior cingulate and precuneus. Because of the role these areas play in self-processing (e.g., self-referential processing, theory of mind, autobiographical memory), our findings provide further support for the hypothesis that contagious yawning may be part of a neural network involved in empathy.