Those Who Yawn Together Stay Together?

by Helen Zhang, age 16

Yawning is frequently associated with boredom or drowsiness. Yawning can also be contagious. Like a mirror effect, when someone yawns, it is likely that someone near him or her will yawn back. Furthermore, a study conducted by the University of Pisa and the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies (ISTC-CNR) of Rome revealed that yawning can be used to evaluate how strong emotional bonds are between people.

This study selected 109 men and women from different countries and recorded their daily activities for approximately one year. Researchers found that the contagiousness of the yawn increases among people who have closer emotional bonds. As familiarity and empathy declines between strangers, so too does the number of “yawnees” in a room.

Called “yawn transmission,” this theory suggests that the time it takes for a person to respond to someone else’s yawn is directly related to the quality of the relationship between the yawner and the yawnee. The time between original yawn and response yawn typically decreases among relatives or close friends, in comparison to strangers.

The transmission of yawns is a phenomenon not commonly found among animals. According to Elisabetta Palagi of ISTC-CNR, “contagious yawning is a complete different, and more ‘modern’ phenomenon.”

Only humans, baboons, and chimpanzees are known to transmit yawns. Some believe that dogs share this ability, though this has not been proven.

No longer is every yawn thought to be merely a symbol of disinterest or lethargy. Yawns can also be a sign of empathy and the strength of emotional bonds between individuals. Who knows, in the future, maybe yawns can even be used to find true love.

[Source: University of Pisa News; NPR]