Topic 21: Why is yawning contagious? and what is it?

Have you ever seen someone else yawn or heard them yawn and then you had to yawn? or have you ever just heard the word yawn or even reading the word and suddenly you cant stop?. I’m just writing this and I cant stop yawning! Chances are you will yawn while reading this. But why do we yawn? what is actually happening to our bodies when we yawn? and why is it contagious?

Dog, cats, fish, unborn babies and even snakes yawn. Scientists aren’t completely sure why we yawn and why it is contagious. It is believed that we yawn to help our brains. Our brains take up 40% of our bodies energy, this means that it tends to heat up more. When we yawn we stretch our jaw, the air goes through to our upper nasal and oral cavities. Our mucus membranes have lots of blood vessels which go straight to the forebrain. When we yawn we stretch our jaws and send more blood to our brain. The air cools changes the temperature of the blood thus cooling the brain.

Contagious yawning is a phoneme, it only happens in humans and chimpanzees.  There are lots of theories to why we yawn, one of the most popular is we yawn because of empathy. It is important to understand and get along with other people. When we yawn we use it as a way to experience what the other person is experiencing, in other words “put ourselves in their shoes”. It could be the part of the brain that “thinks about others” is stimulated. Another theory is when you are bored, tired or sleepy you breath more slowly. Your body decides it need more oxygen so it makes you yawn.


  • Most people will yawn at least one while reading this
  • On average you will yawn 8 times per day
  • Another name for yawning is oscitation
  • The average yawn will last for 6 seconds
  • Yawning is one of the first things we do
  • We yawn when we are in our mums belly

“Life is too short, and the time we waste in yawning can never be regained”- Anonymous



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