We’ve all seen somebody yawn, and then yawned in response. We can’t help it. Why are yawns so darned contagious?
No one knows for sure. A recent Italian study, however, provides support for the theory that contagious yawning is connected to the yawnee’s empathy for the yawner. The study determined that you are more likely to yawn in response to a yawn from a family member than a yawn from a mere friend. Earlier studies that also support that theory found that children with autism, who are viewed as less capable of empathy with other children, also are less likely to engage in contagious yawning.
Many scientific studies seem to be hopelessly abstract, but this one actually has practical use. If you’re looking for empathy in a spouse or a friend, just yawn around them. If they don’t yawn in response, head for the hills.