mise à jour du
8 juin 2006
Examining the connection between
yawning and depression
Samuel R. Gallezzo
Holyoke Community College


This study was a correlation design study of the connection between the self reported levels of yawning and depression by 31 participants. The researcher administered the Goldberg Depression Inventory with a yawning inventory questionnaire. Correlations were computed between yawning and depression and found to be statistically significant. This study is unique because it looks at the connection between yawning frequency and levels of depression. If yawning can be used as a diagnostic tool to screen for depression more people might be willing to seek help after taking a yawning questionnaire. One surprise in the results shows a significant negative relationship between age and yawning.
Examining the Possible Connection between Yawning and Depression
A yawn is defined as an involuntary opening of the mouth, with maximal stretching of the jaw with a deep inhalation of air through the nose and mouth followed by a slow expiration (Askenasy, 2001). For thousands of years the yawn has been a source of intrigue and mystery, not so much for what happens during the yawn but for "why" it happens at all, including its contagion effect in men as well as animals (Schurmann et al., 2005). The yawn is most commonly thought to be the body's way of waking up the mind (Schiller, 2002).
The inability to yawn has been linked to certain mental disorders in the schizophrenic spectrum (Platek, Critton, Myers, & Gallup, 2003). These symptoms involve a lack of social and self-awareness, along with schizophrenia-like symptoms. Nancy Andreason (1987) looked for a connection between schizophrenia and creativity and instead, found a substantial link between mood disorders, such as, depression and creativity in creative writers and their immediate families. It seemed to be a logical conclusion that frequent yawners were also more aware of themselves and social situation and in turn could be more depressed. It also seems reasonable that if a yawning questionnaire can be used to screen for schizotypal or schizoid personality disorders then it could also be used to test for something near it's opposite, such as depression.
Talking about and seeking help for depression is difficult for people as well. This study is unique because it looks at the connection between yawning frequency and levels of depression. If yawning can be used as a diagnostic tool to screen for depression more people might be willing to seek help after taking a yawning questionnaire. Teachers in schools might be able to set up an early intervention with a child that exhibits excessive yawning in class.
This study surveyed 31 participants, 13 men, 18 women, with an average age of 32 and a median age of 24. The sample was gathered from Holyoke Community College, work, and friends. Participants were recruited by availability. No particular attributes were chosen other than the willingness to participate in the study.
The participants were asked to fill out The Goldberg Depression Scale Questionnaire (Holm, Holm and Bech, 2001). This questionnaire consists of 18 questions scored on a likert scale from 1-5. Each Participant was also asked to out a Yawning questionnaire from the Greco and Baenninger study (1993). This questionnaire also has a likert scale from 1-5 with 24 questions. (See questionnaires in appendix a and b). The questionnaires were self report devices that look at depression and yawning in different scenarios such as how much and when a respondent yawns and when or how much a he or she thinks about suicide.
Each participant was asked to fill out a consent form, yawning survey, and depression screening questionnaire. In cases where a telephone survey was conducted, a phone number was placed on the consent form. Each participant was either read or had the opportunity to read the consent form and proceeded with the survey. After the survey was completed each participant was debriefed as to the reason for the survey. None of the participants had any concerns with effects of taking the survey. The combined surveys took 3-5 minutes to complete.
The number of participants were n=31 with = 32.1 years and _ =14.3 years. The maximum age was 62 and the minimum age was 18. The mean yawning score was = 58.2 with _ = 17.08. The maximum and minimum yawning scores were 98 and 28 respectively. The depression score = 36.2 and _ = 13.8 with the maximum and minimum scores being 79 and 18 respectively. There was a positive correlation of depression with higher incidences of yawning with r = .4171 and p<.05 (see scatter plot in figure 1). There was also a significant negative correlation between age and yawning, with r = .4543 and p<.01 (see scatter plot in figure 2). The data show that there is a significant relationship between age and depression and depression and yawning. There were no other significant results for any other factors such as, Grade Point Average and the aforementioned statistics.
After compiling, the data it appears that there is a significant relationship between the frequency of yawning and the level of depression according to self-reports of the respondents. If yawning can be shown to be caused by depression, it could be possible for clinicians to test for depression using a yawning index. For example the more times a clinician can elicit a yawn from a client the higher the probability is that the client is depressed. This method could be used to expose malingerers.
One expected relationship, was that of age and depression. It is assumed that as people age, levels of depression would go up slightly and would therefore cause an increase in yawning. The results show a significant negative relationship between yawning and age and a very slight negative correlation between age and depression. Why is the strength of the relationship much weaker between age and depression? If the hypothesis is correct then as a person gets older they are less depressed and therefore yawn less. If older people yawn less, it could mean they are less depressed or suffering from some disorder. It may be that contagious yawning is a sign of mental health but that yawning excessively at other time may be indicative of depression.
There should be more research on the significance of yawning. It appears to be a very powerful response with very little control by the organism exhibiting this behavior. Yawning is one of life's little idiosyncrasies that keeps science wondering and may help humans to understand each other better.
  1. Andreason, N.C. (1987). Creativity and Mental Illness: Prevalence Rates in Writers and Their First-Degree relatives. American Journal of Psychiatry, 144, 1288-1292
  2. Askenasy, J. (2001) Is Yawning an Arousal Defense Reflex? The Journal of Psychology, 123(6), 609-621.
  3. Greco, M., Baenninger, R. (1993) On the Context of Yawning: When, where, and why? Psychological Record, 43(2), 175-184.
  4. Holm, J., Holm, L. and Bech, P. (2001) Monitoring Improvement Using a Patient-Rated Depression Scale During Treatment with Anti-depressants in General Practice: A Validation Study on the Goldberg Depression Scale. Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care 19(4) 263-266.
  5. Platek, S.M., Critton, S.R., Myers, T.E., & Gallup, G.G., Jr. Contagious yawning: The Role of Self-awareness and Mental State Attribution. Cognitive Brain Research, 17(2) 223-7.
  6. Schiller, F. (2002) Yawning? Journal of the History of the Neurosciences, 11(4), 392-401.
  7. Schurmann, M., Hesse, Stephan, K.E., Saarela, M., Zilles, K., Hari, R., & Fink, G.R. (2005). Yearning to Yawn: The Neural Basis of Contagious Yawning. Neuroimage, 24(4), 1260-1264.