Yawns and Why They Are Contagious Among Friends

Yawns Contagious Among Friends – A new study tried to find out if yawning is contagious and it found that close friends and family are more likely than acquaintances or strangers to catch someone’s yawns, the study found.

The researchers suggest this yawning contagion is, in part, the result of empathy, in which we can attempt to see things from another person’s angle and respond to that person’s emotions.

“I think what the study does is it supports the idea that empathy is the mechanism that underlies contagious yawns,” said Matthew Campbell of Emory University, who wasn’t involved in the study. “The idea is that it’s the same mechanism by which we catch smiles or frowns or fearful expressions.”

“Yawning contagion” has been studied among various primate species, with most of the studies occurring in lab settings. In the new study, by contrast, Ivan Norscia and Elisabetta Palagi of the University of Pisa in Italy observed adults in various natural settings, including restaurants, workplaces, waiting rooms and their homes.

The 109 adults in the study were from Europe, North America, Asia and Africa, and they were about evenly split by gender. The researchers were able to analyze 480 bouts of yawns. After considering for factors that could have affected the time between a person’s yawn and an observer’s imitation, they found social bond was key.

In about two-thirds of the cases, relatives of the yawner responded with their own yawn within a minute, as did about half the friends of the yawner.

Most strangers and acquaintances took two or three minutes to respond, Norscia told LiveScience.

“Not only is contagion greater between familiar individuals, but it also follows an empathic gradient, increasing from strangers to kin-related individuals,” Norscia and Palagi wrote online Dec. 7 for the journal PLoS ONE.