Why Yawns Are Contagious

You can be sitting there, completely wide awake, feeling energized and ready for the day, yet when one person yawns, you begin to yawn as well.


Are yawns contagious? Can you avoid “catching” a yawn?

The answers to those questions are yes and yes. The common assumption is that catching a yawn is a form of empathy – when we see someone yawn, we do so along with them in a show of solidarity. And this explanation is true in part. But studies have also found a link between contagious yawning and a person’s age.

This research study put numerous people of various ages in a room and made them watch a video of people yawning. The results were:

– 82% of people under the age of 25 started to yawn
– 60% of people between 25 and 49 yawned
– 41% of those over the age of 50 yawned

Meaning that yawns are more contagious at a younger age. Interestingly, people suffering from certain mental disorders were less likely to “catch” a yawn than someone with no mental afflictions.

So why are yawns contagious?

Contagious behaviors like yawning, coughing, and laughing appear to be a product of adaptation, something people developed over centuries of living in community. Robert R Provine, professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, says, “Contagious acts such as yawning and laughing remind us that we are often mindless beasts of the herd, not rational beings in full conscious control of our behavior.”

On that cheerful note, take heart in that, the older you get, the less likely it is that you will catch the dreaded contagious yawns.

You can be sitting there, completely wide awake, feeling energized and ready for the day, yet when one person yawns, you begin to yawn as well.