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Jan 05, 2013 | Yawner

Love and Yawning

Have you ever been chatting with a close friend and realised you are both sitting in exactly the same position. It has been known for sometime that people mimic each others body language as a sign of social acceptance and affiliation. In fact many businesses have spent thousands on training sales staff the importance of being congruent with their clients and to watch and copy body movements to help build rapport and trust.

As more and more evidence mounts in support of the empathy theory to contagious yawning the obvious question emerges, could contagious yawning be directly linked with the quality of a relationship?

I have a bit of homework for you, try this experiment. Next time you are having a romantic evening with your partner, surreptitiously slip in 5 yawns at different moments during a period of an hour and count the amount of times your partner yawns in response. Your partner may not yawn immediately after you, so be sure to count all your partners yawns during the hour. If you count zero there could be a high chance that your partner is not that into you (ok don't worry too much, this could just be an off night), but if the yawns are mounting up this could be a sign that true love is in the air.

Top of page Jan 05, 2013 | Yawner

Do Dogs Catch Our Yawns?

The dog has long been known as 'man's best friend' and many owners claim that their dog understands their mood and therefore has the ability to demonstrate empathy. As more and more scientific research points toward a direct link between contagious yawning and empathy, it stands to reason that dogs should be able to catch their owner's yawns.

Well, a recent Portuguese study seems to suggest that dogs not only empathize with their human companions, but do in fact catch their yawns. The experiments held at the National Ethology Congress in Lisbon were ingeniously put together to really focus on how a dog would most likely relate and therefore empathise with a human. It is well known that dogs generally have poor eye-site and are more inclined to build their picture of the world with sounds and smells. The clever Portuguese scientists took high quality recordings of dog owners yawns and then played them back to the canines. They also recorded strangers yawning and played these back to the same animals. The study showed that dogs yawned on hearing humans yawning about 50% of the time regardless of who was yawning. But quite dramatically man's best friend was 5 times more likely to yawn if they listened to a recording of their beloved owner.

As humans we are all hard-wired to recognise patterns and draw conclusions and I suppose it is inevitable that we will search for signs that our cherished pets understand our ways. Sometimes we may be guilty of over emphasising the perceived empathy that animals appear to show us, but this research goes some way to proving that dogs and humans do in fact share a special bond when it comes to understanding one another.

Top of page Jan 05, 2013 | Yawner

Yawning Before An Interview

I was driving my car to a job interview the other day and I noticed I was feeling a bit nervous. I had the usual symptoms associated with nerves such as butterflies in my stomach, a bead of sweat on my brow and an anxious/restless state of mind, but what I hadn't expected was the amount of yawns I was notching up.

The closer I got to the place where my interview was taking place, the more I seemed to be yawning. I know from past experience that I am prone to yawning before mildly stressful situations, for example just before I am to deliver a speech, but I hadn't really questioned why until now.

Science may have the answer to why we yawn in stressful situations. The Centre For Non-Verbal Studies has found that an increase in the brain chemical dopamine causes and increase in yawning. Dopamine is a precursor to adrenaline which is often associated with giving the body a boost in stressful situations. Whether the yawn itself has a beneficial physiological impact on the body or whether it is just a coincidental reaction is still being debated. Some schools of thought suggest that a yawn increases muscle stretching and blood flow to the brain which aids animals who are preparing for a fight or flight scenario. There are of course many theories for yawning causes but as far as I am concerned the humble yawn does seem to somehow aid my management of stress, and yes the interview went well, thank you for asking.

Top of page Jan 05, 2013 | Yawner

Scientific Study Shows Empathy To Be The Root of Contagious Yawning

We all know that yawning is contagious. But it has been somewhat of a mystery to why we have the urge to mimic the curious reflex action of opening one's mouth wide and inhaling deeply. Well, it seems we now have an answer thanks to the scientists at the Museum of Natural History and Territory in Italy.

It seems that empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is at the root of contagious yawning. The scientists conducted research on more then 100 people over the period of a year. The subjects were observed in a variety of everyday situations such as during meals, at work, and the daily commute. One of the most revealing outcomes of the observations was that yawning was more contagious between family members. As there is a stronger emotional link between family members, this seems to suggest that empathy plays an important role in the phenomenon. So, it seems that social bonds determine the likelihood that two people will share a yawning experience.

Empathy is known to increase with how well you know someone. Empathy is at its weakest between strangers, it increases with acquaintances, strengthens more with friends and is at it's height with family. It appears the contagious yawning follows exactly the same pattern. Additionally, the Italian study showed that the contagious yawn was triggered much faster the more well known to each other the participants were.

Finally, to support this hypotheses further, it has been shown that young children and those with autism are unable to participate in contagious yawning. Children under the age of four and those with autism lack the emotional recognition skills needed to empathise with people. The absence of contagious yawning in the same group of individuals seems to cement the link with empathy.

Top of page Jan 05, 2013 | Yawner

Could Yawning be a sign of Sexual Attraction?

It sounds crazy, but new scientific research suggests that our instinct to yawn may be linked to sexual attraction.

According to Dutch author Wolter Seuntjens, yawning may send out erotic subliminal messages to potential sexual partners. Conventional wisdom would suggest that it would be game over if your attempts at seducing a mate were met with a big yawn. Well this new research seems to imply that the yawn of a potential mate could mean it's your lucky night.

Top of page Jan 05, 2013 | Yawner

Yawn Researchers Win Ig Nobel Prize

A group of researchers have won the Ig Nobel Prize in the physiology catergory for their study entitled "No Evidence of Contagious Yawning in the Red-Footed Tortoise".

The Ig Nobel Prizes are run by the humurous magazine "Annals of Improbable Research" and the aim of the spoof awards is to "first make people laugh, and then make them think". I am sure that the four scientists that conducted the yawning experiments saw the funny side of this most coverted of awards but there was an important point to their studies. They were attempting to test the merits of the three competing theories of contagious yawning.

The first theory is that yawning is a pre set action that is triggered when seeing someone else yawn, the second theory is the chameleon effect, an unconcious urge to copy a companion, and the final idea is the empathy theory. The thinking behind the study was, as the tortoise is a solitary animal and not capable of empathy, if contagious yawning occured it must be due to theory one.

The experiments involved a tortoise being trained to yawn whenever it saw a red rectangle. This was intensly ingrained into the tortoise. The brainwashed tortoise would then be placed with another tortoise that had never seen a red rectangle. If the second tortoise yawned shortly after the first one then this would settle the debate. Unfortunatley the experiments failed to establish why we yawn as the second tortoise failed to yawn after the first one. Well, at least we now know tortoises are not subject to contagious yawning.

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