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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Myth Busting Monday - Yawning is Contagious

MYTH: Yawning is "contagious"

I have always wondered 'what is the purpose of yawning other than a sign of being tired'. In doing research about this myth I found that yawning is a reflex of deep inhalation and exhalation associated with tiredness, stress, over-work, lack of stimulation, or boredom.[source] I also found out that many parts of the body that are in action when you yawn. First, your mouth opens and jaw drops, allowing as much air to be taken in as possible. When you inhale, the air taken in is filling your lungs. Your abdominal muscles flex and your diaphragm is pushed down. The air you breath in expands the lungs to capacity and then some of the air is blown back out. [source] Yawning is just one of those strange things that people and animals do that no one can quite explain, but one of the most interesting things about yawning is that is seems to be contaious.
Empirically, this is tough to deny; perhaps you'll yawn while reading this. The real question is whether there's actually something physiological at work here, and the answer is likely yes: even chimpanzees mimic each other's yawns.[soucre]
One of the episodes of the TV show Mythbusters tested this myth. They concluded that this myth is plausible. Here is what they did:
In a test pool of 50 people those who were influenced into yawning by the MythBusters yawned 29% of the time. However, those who were not influenced yawned only 25% of the time. Despite this supportive evidence, the 4% difference between the experimental and control groups was not large enough to constitute a statistically significant difference (at alpha = 0.05), and therefore no definitive conclusion could be reached based on these results.[source]
I have been yawning a lot while I have been writing this post. I decided to conduct an experiment, as suggested by the howstuffworks article on 'What makes us yawn'. At the beginning of my Monday morning engineering meeting last week I was planning on yawning in front of everyone to see if it would make anyone else yawn; I was waiting for the right moment when one of the other guys in the meeting yawned, which made me yawn but no one else. I guess I was really tired that day because I continued to yawn throughout the rest of the meeting but it had no affect on anyone else, I was the only yawing.

What are your thoughts about this myth, let us know in the comments

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