The Science of Yawning: Why Do We Yawn and Is It Contagious?

Why Do We Yawn

Yawning is a natural and involuntary behavior that everyone experiences. We yawn when we’re tired, bored, or even when we see others yawning.

But have you ever wondered why we yawn or why yawning is contagious? In this article, we’ll explore the science behind yawning and its mysterious contagiousness.

What is a Yawn?

A yawn is a reflex act of inhaling deeply and exhaling audibly through the mouth.

It’s usually accompanied by stretching and an upward movement of the arms.

Yawning is a common behavior in humans and many animals, including dogs, cats, and even fish.

Why Do We Yawn?
A Woman Yawning While Covering Her Mouth

There are several theories about why we yawn. One theory suggests that yawning is a way to increase oxygen intake and decrease carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

Another theory is that yawning helps regulate brain temperature.

When we yawn, we cool down the blood vessels in our brain, which may help improve brain function and alertness.

Is Yawning Contagious?

Yes, yawning is contagious! When we see someone yawn, it triggers a response in our brains that makes us want to yawn too.

This is known as contagious yawning, and it’s a common phenomenon in humans and some animals.

Contagious yawning is believed to be a sign of empathy and social bonding.

Why Is Yawning Contagious?

The reason why yawning is contagious is still not fully understood. One theory suggests that contagious yawning is a way of showing empathy and bonding with others.

Another theory is that contagious yawning is a way of communicating fatigue or boredom.

What Factors Influence Contagious Yawning?

Contagious yawning can be influenced by several factors, including age, gender, and social relationships. Studies have shown that women are more susceptible to contagious yawning than men.

Young children are less likely to catch contagious yawns than adults, and people with stronger social bonds are more likely to yawn contagiously.

Can Animals Catch Contagious Yawns?

Yawning Dog Under A Blanket

Yes, some animals can catch contagious yawns. Dogs, cats, and primates have all been observed yawning contagiously.

In fact, one study found that dogs were more likely to yawn when their owners yawned than when a stranger yawned.

Final Thoughts

Yawning may seem like a simple and mundane behavior, but it’s a complex and fascinating phenomenon.

Scientists are still trying to understand why we yawn and why yawning is contagious.

While we may not have all the answers yet, one thing is clear – yawning is a universal behavior that connects us all.


Q: Why do we yawn when we’re tired?

A: Yawning may help increase oxygen intake and decrease carbon dioxide levels in the blood, which can help reduce feelings of fatigue.

Q: Can we yawn on purpose?

A: Yes, we can yawn on purpose. However, it’s usually a reflex behavior that happens involuntarily.

Q: Is yawning a sign of boredom?

A: Yawning can be a sign of boredom, but it can also be a sign of fatigue, stress, or even hunger.

Q: Is it rude to yawn in public?

A: Yawning is a natural behavior and not considered rude in most cultures.

However, it’s polite to cover your mouth when you yawn to avoid spreading germs.

Q: Can we stop ourselves from yawning?

A: It can be difficult to stop ourselves from yawning because it’s usually a reflex behavior.

However, taking deep breaths, getting up and moving around, or even simply distracting yourself can sometimes help reduce the urge to yawn.

Q: Why do we stretch when we yawn?

A: Stretching when we yawn is also a reflex behavior.

It’s believed to help increase blood flow and oxygen to our muscles, which can help reduce feelings of fatigue and increase alertness.

Q: Are there any health benefits to yawning?

A: While the health benefits of yawning are still not fully understood, some studies have suggested that yawning may help improve brain function, reduce stress, and increase social bonding.

Q: Can yawning be a sign of a medical condition?

A: In rare cases, excessive yawning can be a sign of a medical condition such as sleep apnea, migraines, or seizures.

If you’re experiencing frequent or excessive yawning, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor.

Q: Why do we yawn when we see others yawn?

A: When we see others yawn, it triggers a response in our brains that makes us want to yawn too.

This is believed to be a way of showing empathy and social bonding.

Q: Is there a difference between a yawn and a sigh?

A: Yes, there is a difference between a yawn and a sigh.

While both involve deep breathing, a yawn is usually accompanied by stretching and an upward movement of the arms, while a sigh is usually a sign of relief or frustration.


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  2. Guggisberg, A. G., et al. (2010). Mapping of brain activation in response to pharmacological agents in man: Caffeine-induced increase in cerebral activation and effects of theophylline and alcohol. Clinical Neurophysiology, 121(2), 246–251.
  3. Provine, R. R. (2012). Curious behavior: Yawning, laughing, hiccupping, and beyond. Harvard University Press.
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