Is Yawning Contagious? Scientists Explain Why We Do It

Is Yawning Contagious? Scientists Explain Why We Do It

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Yawning has been observed and researched for many years, but there is still much to figure out. It has remained a mystery all along, but there are some theories about it. Scientists believe they are beginning to figure out why humans yawn and if it is contagious.

The definition and the mechanics of it are well known, of course. It is a natural bodily reflex that includes taking a deep breath in, opening your jaw wide, and quickly and forcefully exhaling. Yawning causes a feeling of relaxation, stretching of the eardrums, and eyes to close tightly.

One theory of why people yawn is that they need oxygen, bringing more oxygen into your body. This theory isn’t well-supported, however, and many researchers believe it isn’t true. It seems to have more to do with brain temperature, empathy, and other factors.

Scientists Explain Why We Yawn

While all of this is still being researched, scientists have discovered some reasons why people yawn. They have also done work to figure out if the reflex is contagious, as it is widely believed to be.

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1 – It Cools Your Brain

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Thermal images show that yawning might help to cool the human brain. When you inhale deeply during a yawn, it pulls cool air into your mouth and body. This then cools the blood that goes to the brain.

This theory could explain when you yawn more when you have a fever. If your brain is hot and this reflex cools it down, it’s only expected that you yawn more at this time.

This seems to occur anytime the brain is too hot, not only when there is a fever present. It removes hot blood from around the brain and replaces it with cool blood.

Another thing to consider is how often you yawn in the winter compared to the summer. In the winter, most people yawn quite a bit less than they do in the summer. This further supports the theory that it happens when your brain needs cooled.

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2 – You Feel Stressed

High levels of cortisol can trigger a yawn, and cortisol levels increase when you are stressed. So, if you are feeling stressed, you’ll notice that you yawn more often.

3 – To Change Your State of Awareness

Your body has to function in different ways at different times of the day. Sometimes when you yawn, it is a way for your body to change its state. Then, your body will be able to function accordingly.

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When you yawn at night time or before bed, it is your body’s way of preparing for rest. If you yawn when you are bored, it’s a sign that your body is shifting to a lower level of alertness. Likewise, if you yawn after exercising, it’s because your body is changing from high energy to low energy.

4 – Communication

Humans communicate with one another in physical ways that they don’t even realize. One way this is done is through a yawn. It is believed to be an unspoken way of indicating boredom or a need for sleep. Research suggests that this might be the most “contagious” yawn of all.

5 – To Make Up for Elevation Changes

When you are on an airplane or driving up a mountain, this natural reflex is a way to equalize ear pressure. You will likely do it involuntarily and continue to do it on purpose when you realize it works.

6 – To Show Empathy

If you have social empathy, you will likely yawn at the same time as other people. This happens when you are reading about it or talking about it, as well. Even the mention of a yawn can trigger the reflex.

While this could be true for everyone, those who are more empathetic will be more likely to yawn when someone else does. It is also believed that the closer you are to someone emotionally, the more likely you are to yawn when they do.

7 – To Keep You Alert

Many people believe that a yawn is an indication of sleepiness, but this is not entirely accurate. Instead, it is believed that a yawn is a way to keep you alert. Since you likely aren’t very alert when you are exhausted, this is probably why it continually happens when you are tired.

When you yawn, your heart rate increases, which is why it can make you more alert. It only works for a short time, so you’ll notice it frequently happens during these times. This is also why you tend to fidget and stretch during this because those are other ways to increase alertness.

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When you yawn just after waking up, it helps you become alert and ready for the day. It will stretch the lungs and tissues and help the body flex the muscles before starting to move. Plus, it forces the blood toward your head, which is sure to make you more alert.

Another way this natural reflex helps keep you alert is by keeping you more in-tune with your surroundings. When you yawn, muscles in your ears are stimulated, which leads to greater hearing sensitivity. You will be able to hear things you wouldn’t have otherwise heard.

Plus, the activation of those muscles will increase your range of movement. Plus, you will squeeze your eyes shut and open them back up during a yawn, making your eyesight clearer.

So, Is Yawning Contagious?

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Now that you know what the scientists say about why you yawn, it’s time to learn if it is contagious. You have probably yawned when you saw someone else yawn, and this likely even occurs often. Plus, you may have yawned while reading this since even the thought of a yawn can trigger one.

As you have probably already guessed, the answer is yes. Yawning is contagious, but only for some people and during certain times.

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Empathetic people are generally the only ones who yawn when someone else does. The situation has to allow for it, as well. If someone is angry or feeling other negative emotions, they may not be as empathetic as they normally would be.

Another factor that contributes to this is how close you are to someone emotionally. You will be more likely to “catch” a contagious yawn from someone you are close to rather than a stranger.

If you still aren’t convinced that a yawn is contagious, try watching a video of people yawning. Chances are, if you are empathetic, it’ll make you yawn at least once. Then, pay attention to when the people you are close to yawn and see if you yawn, as well.

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