Empathy Makes Yawns More Contagious
December 8, 2011

Empathy Makes Yawns More Contagious

According to research published in the online journal PLoS ONE, you are more likely to respond to a yawn with another yawn when it comes from a family member or friend.

A new study researched why yawns are contagious and found that it could be at least in part as a form of social empathy.

The researchers studied 109 men and women from a variety of nationalities in their day-to-day activities and recorded instances of contagious yawning.

The team, led by Ivan Norscia and Elisabetta Palagi of the University of Pisa in Italy, found that people would more likely yawn if their family members yawned, rather than a stranger.

They also found that yawn contagion was highest in response to family members, then friends, then acquaintances, and finally strangers.  This pattern also is seen for other measures of empathy as well.

"For the first time, yawn contagion is affected by the empathic bond that links two people, by considering humans in their natural settings," the authors wrote.

They found that the delay between yawn and response was greater between acquaintances and strangers, which also hints that empathy and social familiarity plays a role.

"Our results demonstrate that yawn contagion is primarily driven by the emotional closeness between individuals and not by other variables, such as gender and nationality," the researchers wrote.


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