Is Yawning Contagious
Answering The Question: Is Yawning Contagious?
The answer to that would be - apparently so. When others yawn, we sometimes yawn, and when we yawn, someone near us may follow with a yawn of his or her own. When we think of something being contagious, we often think in terms of a disease, but contagious also is defined as "the exciting of similar emotions or conduct in others". Given that definition, there are a number of things we do that could be considered contagious. When we ask the question - "Is yawning contagious?" - we might just as easily ask if laughter is contagious. The answer to that is also - apparently so.
Cause And Treatment - We can at times stop the spread of a communicable or contagious disease if we know something about the disease, and what the underlying cause is. When we can't find a treatment for a disease it's usually because the cause is not known. By analogy, if we knew the cause of yawning we might be able to prevent yawning from being contagious. Not that we would necessarily want to, but since we really don't know the cause, although there are a number of theories, we can't stop what seems to be an involuntary action from happening. You yawn, I yawn.
Of course we don't have to see someone else yawn to yawn ourselves. Just thinking about yawning can make us yawn. Reading the word YAWN can make you yawn. Neither may have anything to do with yawning being contagious, but there are definitely a rather large number of things that can trigger yawning.
Getting back to the definition of contagious, “the exciting of similar conduct in others”, it could be said that learning is contagious, certainly learning by seeing, or the desire to mimic someone would appear to be. In the case of learning it's usually a voluntary action, whereas yawning is involuntary. Still, one theory is that there is a part of the brain, two parts actually, located on either side of the head, which have something to do with yawning in response to another person's yawn. It has something to do with what is called the mirror neuron system being bypassed. Instead of purposefully yawning in response to another yawn, our yawn is involuntary. Having said all this, the question remains 'why? - and still unanswered is the question - is yawning contagious?
Horses Do It - Still another theory is that yawning is a form of social bonding. If that's true, it's a strange way of bonding, like saying "I see you're bored, I'm bored too", or "I see you're sleepy, I'm sleepy too". There might be something to the theory, but it raises the question, who are we bonding with if we yawn and no on else is around? If we yawn near a perfect stranger, is it a form of social bonding? The fact that all vertebrates yawn might suggest that social bonding is really not the answer, though it's only with humans, chimpanzees, dogs, and maybe horses, that yawning has an appearance of being contagious.
Another piece of the puzzle has to do with the age at which people start to experience contagious yawning. It may be something that's programmed into us, and probably is. Babies will yawn but they don't yawn because someone else does. Toddlers don't experience contagious yawning either. But something happens around the age of four. It's at that age that a definite majority of children suddenly will be affected by contagious yawning, something that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.
A Subject For A Government Grant? - Yawning makes for an interesting study. We know we yawn when we're sleepy or bored, when we have to clear our ears at altitude (sometimes voluntary, sometimes involuntary), and we often yawn to accompany a good stretch of the muscles. Most of us yawn when we first get out of bed in the morning. We know what things cause us to yawn, though the act itself isn't perfectly understood. As far as the original question is concerned – is yawning contagious? - the answer seems to be yes, but why that is we really don't know.