Science Questions

Why are yawns catching?

Sun, 17th Feb 2008

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Question

David asked:

Iíve got a five week old daughter who yawns. When she yawns he yawns as well. When he yawns she doesnít yawn. Is the contagious yawning thing learnt or a cultural thing?

Answer

Thatís a very good question.  Yawning is a really common reflex, actually that happens in lots of different animals.  If you see someone yawning you want to yawn yourself which is very strange.  We see it in all these animals including some that maybe arenít so social.  Maybe it isnít something thatís learned but maybe a bit more inherent.  Perhaps it just starts to arrive at some point.

Wild dogs in Africa get contagious yawning, where one will yawn and then the other will yawn and it tends to be about the time when theyíre going to bed.  Itís a nice way of getting the whole pack to decide to go to bed.

Often with very young babies, their eyesight isnít very good.  They canít focus very well so it could be just she canít see you yawning.  She doesnít learn how to yawn from that.

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