Yawning to Relate


You’re probably familiar with the situation; you’re sitting in a waiting room, watching the clock. The person sitting across from you yawns and, as if on cue, you also yawn.

Yawning typically signifies tiredness or boredom, yet researchers in Britain have proved otherwise. In fact, “contagious” yawning, that is, yawning after you see someone else yawn, is a sign of empathy.

Back in the day of cave dwellers and nomadic hunters, yawning was a way to raise alertness, as it increased the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. Scientists think yawning developed into a warning signal, as if a yawn meant to wake up and watch for danger. Yawning was a survival skill.

Nowadays, yawning typically happens after a night with too-little sleep, in a long meeting, or while waiting, yet the contagious yawn still is a warning to wake up. Instead of being used as a warning for possible trouble ahead, yawning is used to silently empathize with your neighbor.