As midterms approach I’ve found myself incredibly restless and yawning every so often, probably as do all of my peers and classmates. Sometimes I’d even yawn to the sight of others yawning, but is yawning really contagious? I’d like to believe so because even when I’m caffeinated I yawn when my friends do! But first, where does it even come from? As humans, scientists have proved that we started yawning since we were a fetus in our second trimester. Although not exactly sure where this phenomenon came about, it’s believed to be connected with proper brain development.
Yawning has been thought of as a subconscious act to make us feel less tired by drawing large amounts of oxygen to increase blood pressure and heart rates thus improving our alertness and motor function. This has been proven not to make us feel less tired but rather it is a way of physiologically cooling our brains. Our brains induces more heat as we grow more exhausted, which explains why we yawn when we are so tired. Researchers have tested this theory by experimenting with warm and cold packs and placing it on the participants’ forehead. Results show that those with the warm packs are more likely to yawn compared to those with the cold packs.
So how does that explain contagious yawning? Well some scientists like to refer to it as “social yawning”. Social yawning is a sign of mimicry and empathy and begins around the age of 4-5 years old. Just like how many laugh and cry along with others, the same holds true for yawning. Mirror neurons are also another reason as to why we yawn when others do – these neurons are activated when we perform, view, or hear about an action. We are also more likely to mimic the yawns of those that are socially or genetically closer to us.