Why is yawning contagious?

For many years, various theories have tried to explain why yawning occurs. However, for now there is not entirely conclusive evidence. What do some hypotheses say? Here we detail it.

Why is yawning contagious? Almost two-thirds of people are sensitive to the contagion of yawning. That is, they will instinctively repeat this behavior if they see someone doing it.

The fact is that, among the most common behaviors in humans, yawning is perhaps the least understood. Thus, the explanation for why we yawn remains to be demonstrated. Although, in any case, this behavior is usually common in other animals such as cats, dogs, apes, and so on.

Yawning usually occurs just before sleeping, waking up, when we are hungry or bored. Even just the fact of reading these lines can already induce you to yawn, have you noticed? They have impressive contagion potential.

Theories about why yawns exist

If this behavior exists, it must be because it has some use. Now what can it be? For many years, various theories have tried to explain it. Let’s see some of the most accepted.

Theory of oxygenation

Its most distal antecedent seems to be in Hippocrates, who argued that yawning eliminated used air and renewed it with clean and fresh air. This hypothesis seems to correspond to the fact that, when oxygen levels decrease due to drowsiness, yawning would be a quick way to inject oxygen into the body.

In any case, it is a controversial theory that, as the researchers point out, has yet to be tested. Therefore, the idea can neither be confirmed nor ruled out in its entirety.

Activation theory

If we are conscious, we yawn when the level of alertness decreases due to drowsiness, boredom, and so on. When yawning, it would redirect attention and give us a necessary extra activation. However, although it seems logical, the idea has not been able to be 100% empirically demonstrated.

It is not that this theory has to be discarded, it is that more research is still needed to allow a causal link between the level of activation and yawning.

Body temperature theory

This is the theory that has gained the most force in recent times, since it is the one that provides the most convincing data. According to a study, yawning would help lower the temperature to cool the brain and make it work better.

The data clearly indicate that, before yawning, there is a rise in temperature that drops rapidly after each yawn. If you want to eliminate yawning, nothing like putting a cloth with very cold water on your forehead, as it has a similar effect.

In addition, these data have been successfully replicated in other studies, so the theory is given considerable validity. However, the principal investigator of the study suggests that the 3 previous theories are compatible with each other and that, although this theory has a greater validity, the possibility of a relationship between the three should not be ruled out.

Why is yawning contagious?

As we said before, most people catch the yawning of others easily, as it happens to other higher animals. There are two theories that explain it; We detail them below:

  • Yawning helps to synchronize the behaviors of the group. It is part of the imitation behaviors. For example, social animals tend to carry out specific behaviors at the same time. For example, eating, moving, body posture, and so on.
  • The second theory refers to empathy. Thus, seeing someone yawn would activate the cerebral circuits of empathy, including mirror neurons, which act as an internal reflection of the movements that we observe of others

We have seen 3 theories that seem to simultaneously explain why yawning. In addition, we review some of the reasons why they are infected. What is your opinion of all this?

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