Study of the Day: Those Who Love One Another, Yawn Together

More

The phenomenon of "yawn contagion" goes beyond copycat tendencies. New behavioral research shows it may be a sign of empathy.

main Yuri Arcurs shutterstock_64010335.jpg

PROBLEM: The phenomenon of contagious yawning is widely known but little understood. Clinical, psychological, and neurobiological studies have suggested a link between yawn reciprocation and human empathy, but there has been no behavioral evidence to back up this belief.

METHODOLOGY: University of Pisa in Italy researchers Ivan Norscia and Elisabetta Palagi observed the yawning behavior of 109 adults for over one year. They tested the effect of several variables, including country of origin, sex, social bonding, and yawn characteristics, on the spread of yawning.

RESULTS: Only social bonding predicted the occurrence, frequency, and pace of yawn spread. More precisely, contagion was highest in response to family, then friends, then acquaintances, and finally strangers -- the same pattern observed in other measures of empathy.

CONCLUSION: You're more likely to reciprocate yawns that originate from people you are close to than from a stranger.

SOURCE: The full study, "Yawn Contagion and Empathy in Homo sapiens," is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

Image: Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Hans Villarica writes for and produces The Atlantic's Health channel. His work has appeared in TIME, People Asia, and Fast Company.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Is the Greatest Story Ever Told?

A panel of storytellers share their favorite tales, from the Bible to Charlotte's Web.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Death of Film

You'll never hear the whirring sound of a projector again.

Video

How to Hunt With Poison Darts

A Borneo hunter explains one of his tribe's oldest customs: the art of the blowpipe

Video

A Delightful, Pixar-Inspired Cartoon

An action figure and his reluctant sidekick trek across a kitchen in search of treasure.

Video

I Am an Undocumented Immigrant

"I look like a typical young American."

Video

Why Did I Study Physics?

Using hand-drawn cartoons to explain an academic passion

Writers

Up
Down

More in Health

Just In