Yawning is a way to relieve one’s tiredness. The carbon dioxide in our blood will increase whenever we get tired, and it stimulates our brain respiratory centre and causes us to take a deep breath in order to breathe it out so that our blood will be refilled with oxygen, and the density of our blood oxygen can be restored and our brains activated to keep our alertness. I guess you have experienced contagious yawning too, right? You tend to open your mouth unconsciously and yawn whenever you see people doing so, even when you are not really tired yourself.
Why on earth caused yawning to be contagious? Though scientists have not yet fully identified reasons behind it, many hypothesis have gone viral now. According to physiology hypothesis, yawning is contagious when we are triggered by certain stimulus in our brain, and it functions in a very similar way like the Domino effect. As you watch others yawning, the visual effect will stimulate your brain cortex and causes it to reflex, and just like following a mimic reflection found in a mirror, your brain responds to it and you start yawning automatically. It will be somehow quite impossible to stop yourself from yawning under such circumstances.
Another type of physiology hypothesis is known as non-conscious mimicry or the Chameleon effect. It is an act that models after someone’s action in a subtle and non-conscious way. The scientists have proven this through their research and study done on Neuroimaging and Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (FMRI), where we will yawn whenever we see others yawning as a special group of neurons in our brain cells known as the Mirror Neuron will cause us to react similarly.
The psychology hypothesis suggests that contagious yawning has to do with human’s empathy. The effect produced by the mirror neuron is a kind of expression of our empathy that enables us to associate with others’ feeling, and to blend with the emotion of others. It is a key ability of human being. Scientists also discover that the contagious level of yawning depends on your intimacy level with the person who yawns. The closer you are related with each other, like among families, friends and acquaintances, the more likely you will be affected. It happens lesser among strangers. Reasons being that it will be much easier for you to empathize with those you are close with.
Though yawning is only a very small act, it contains such profound theories. Start observing today. If you are “infected” whenever anyone yawns, it may imply that you are a person who is full of empathy. It is not something bad indeed!