contagious yawns

walking down 8th avenue this morning on my way to work, i felt more zombie-like than usual mornings, i couldnt help but let out a big ol’ yawn… then i cracked up when i saw the guy coming at me yawn, then the person next to me yawned… and i couldnt help but wonder – why ARE yawns so contagious?!

while reading this post, i guarantee you’ll find yourself yawning, even just thinking about it sets it off!

all vertebrates yawn, but only humans, chimps and possibly dogs find yawns contagious

so – WHY do we do it?!

well, there are lots of theories, but actually, no one really knows for sure

the possibilities:

when we are bored or tired, we just don’t breathe as deeply as we usually do
our bodies take in less oxygen because our breathing has slowed
yawning helps us bring more oxygen into the blood and move more carbon dioxide out of the blood

it stretches the lungs and lung tissue
may be a way to flex muscles and joints, increase heart rate, and feel more awake

protective reflex to redistribute the oil-like substance – surfactant – that helps keep lungs lubricated inside and keeps them from collapsing

it began with our ancestors, who used yawning to show their teeth and intimidate others

it cools your brain
cool brains can think more clearly, keeping us more alert

it may be linked to one’s capacity for empathy

here’s a fun experiment to try out:

next time you’re in a meeting or large group, take a BIG yawn, then cover your mouth out of courtesy and watch to see how many people follow. there’s a good chance you’ll set off a chain reaction of deep breaths and wide-open mouths!


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