Age May Influence Contagious Yawns



Health tips – Despite apparent existing evidence to the contrary, it seems that contagious yawning among humans has little to do with empathy and more to do with age. At least, that’s according to new research from the Duke Centre for Human Genome Variation in Durham, North Carolina, which finds that contagious yawning may decrease as humans get older.

However, the act itself still remains ultimately unexplained.

“The contagious aspect of yawning is a well-known phenomenon that exhibits variation in the human population. Despite the observed variation, few studies have addressed its intra-individual reliability or the factors modulating differences in the susceptibility of healthy volunteers,” the report states.

Unlike spontaneous yawning, contagious yawning is unique to humans and chimpanzees — common triggers are the sight, sound or mention of yawning. We’re an impressionable lot and the chances are you’ve let out a few yawns yourself while reading this, particularly if you’re young.

It’s still largely unclear why some people are more susceptible to contagious yawning than others. Previous research revealed an apparent relationship between contagious yawning and the ability to understand another individual’s feelings and emotions. Other studies have seen correlations between contagious yawning and the time of day or an individual’s level of intelligence.

Studying how and why people yawn might seem peculiar, but the associated medical implications could allow for a better understanding of autism and schizophrenia: “Due to its obvious biological basis and impairment in diseases like autism and schizophrenia, a better understanding of this trait could lead to novel insights into these conditions and the general biological functioning of humans.”

The team from the Duke Centre for Human Genome Variation administered 328 participants a three-minute yawning video stimulus, a cognitive battery, and a comprehensive questionnaire that included measures of empathy, emotional contagion, circadian energy rhythms, and sleepiness.

“Individual contagious yawning measurements were found to be highly stable across testing sessions, both in a lab setting and if administered remotely online, confirming that certain healthy individuals are less susceptible to contagious yawns than are others,” said the report.

The most substantial finding was that as the age of the participants increased, contagious yawns were less likely occur, even when restricting to ages of less than 40 years. “However, age was only able to explain eight percent of the variability in the contagious yawn response,” concludes the report, “the vast majority of the variability in this extremely stable trait remained unexplained, suggesting that studies of its inheritance are warranted.” (Wired)

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