Yawning, as most of us probably already know, is as contagious as the common cold; in fact, just thinking about it right now might make you yawn. It happens to be an ancient, involuntary function panning across a huge number of animals, including humans, primates and even fishes, for that matter. So why is it that just thinking about yawning or looking at someone yawn makes us feel like yawning too?
Humans, dogs, primates and almost all kinds of animals display contagious yawning.
A yawn, or oscitation, is technically a reflexive action in which one simultaneously breathes in, stretches their eardrums and then exhales the breath. Yawning usually occurs before and after sleeping, or in the midst of tedious work. Although, yawning is considered to be associated with tiredness, stress, sleepiness, or even boredom and hunger; it most commonly occurs as a contagion when a person sees other people yawning.
Studies linked contagious yawning to emotional intelligence and empathy.
It used to be believed that yawning is contagious because of the social connection a group or species of animals share with each other. And, an individual with a higher level of empathy and emotional intelligence would be prone to yawning when seeing someone else yawn, or even by just thinking about it.
But researchers still speculate over the real reason behind why yawning is contagious.
A group of researchers from the Duke University School of Medicine still speculate whether the claims that yawning is contagious because of the presence of empathy, are any true. And, have disregarded the connection between yawning and emotional intelligence or even the time of day.
The only concrete connection yawning being contagious has, is with age.
It has been found that the contagiousness of yawning decreases with age; moreover, children below the age of 4 years or children with autism do not display contagious yawning, although these children and adults will still display spontaneous yawning. In fact, babies start yawning by themselves by the time they're in the womb.
So, to conclude, most previous research would indicate the reason behind contagious yawning as empathy and a form of social connect between animals. But, a lot more research has to be conducted to pinpoint the accurate reason.
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