Feeling tired? Maybe you’re daydreaming about a nice, lengthy nap to recharge your energy. Pondering about sleep for a while might lead to you releasing a long, extended YAAAAAWWWWWN!
If you have been WONDERing with us for some time, you may have read about the reason behind why people yawn. The answer is… nobody really knows! While scientists have many theories, there is no definitive explanation for why humans yawn.
However, there is one thing that experts are aware of about yawns—they tend to be contagious! Have you ever caught a yawn from someone else? Most people have. In fact, a person is six times more likely to yawn after witnessing someone else doing so.
Why is yawning contagious? That is another puzzle that experts are still trying to solve. They have conducted numerous studies on why yawns seem to spread from person to person. As a result, experts have a few theories regarding the cause behind it.
One potential explanation is related to something called social mirroring. This is triggered by mirror neurons in the brain. These neurons assist the brain in recognizing beneficial behaviors in others and then imitating them. When one person sees another person yawn, their mirror neurons observe the action and interpret it as advantageous. This may then cause them to yawn as well.
Another popular theory is that contagious yawning is due to social bonds. In fact, many experts believe that it may be a sign of empathy. Humans are undeniably social beings. They form friendships, families, and live together in groups. That is why many people mirror others, such as smiling when another person does so. Yawning may simply be another example of this. In fact, research has shown that people are most likely to catch a case of the yawns from another person if they share a social bond.
The explanation could also be that yawns are not truly contagious at all. Instead, people may yawn when they are together simply because they are in the same environment. Experts state that many things can trigger yawning—including temperature and time of day. Possible triggers can be experienced by anyone in the vicinity. Therefore, people yawning after each other may be purely coincidental.
Regardless of the explanation, experts do know that contagious yawning is not limited to humans. One study observed two prides of lions in South Africa and found that these animals also caught each other’s yawns. In fact, a lion was 139 times more likely to yawn after witnessing another member of the pride doing so.
Similar behaviors have been observed in other mammals as well. Primates, wolves, and even domestic dogs appear to experience contagious yawning. In some cases, this phenomenon may even extend across different species. For example, pet dogs are more likely to yawn after seeing their owner yawn.
Think about the last time you yawned. Was it after witnessing another person yawn? Or did you start yawning and pass it on to others? Either way, yawning often becomes a group activity!
Try It Out
Ready to learn more? Enlist the help of a friend or family member for the following activities.
- The reason why people yawn is still uncertain, but experts have several theories. Discover more about yawning in this article. Do you find yourself yawning frequently? Can you witness someone else yawning without yawning yourself? Share some intriguing facts about yawning with a friend or family member.
- It is commonly believed that yawning occurs when one is bored, but that is not necessarily true. When do you experience the most yawning? Is it when you are bored, sleepy, or right after waking up? Have you ever yawned at an inappropriate time? Write a couple of paragraphs about what triggers your yawning. Share your writing with a friend or family member and inquire about what triggers their yawning.
- Gather markers, crayons, and paper and create a poster depicting how you look when yawning. After drawing yourself yawning, add elements to the picture that induce yawning in you. It can be things that make you bored or sleepy. Share your creation with a friend or family member.
Sources of Wonder
- https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/why-are-yawns-contagious-we-asked-a-scientist (accessed 05 Apr. 2022)
- https://www.healthline.com/health/why-do-we-yawn#see-a-doctor (accessed 05 Apr. 2022)
- https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/many-mammals-are-contagious-yawners-this-might-be-why (accessed 05 Apr. 2022)
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7147458/ (accessed 05 Apr. 2022)
- https://learnersdictionary.com/ (accessed 05 Apr. 2022)