You’re at the office and your co-worker yawns. Despite the fact that you don’t feel sleepy and didn’t have the urge to yawn before, you suddenly do now. Is it true that yawns are contagious? As it turns out, yes, you can “catch” a yawn.
The contagiousness of yawns is likely due to an empathic connection adults feel toward others, and the phenomenon is known as echophenomena.
So, yes, yawns are contagious, but the why is a bit more complicated than feeling that empathetic connection to another person. Reyan Saghir, MBBS, BSc (Hons), spoke with Real Simple and explained yawning triggers “mirror neurons” which become activated after seeing someone yawn and encourage us to imitate it.
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If you're the one initiating all the yawns, maybe grab some caffeine.
In fact, according to Saghir, it’s impossible to resist because our brains don’t allow it. Plus, when someone has a strong social or emotional connection to someone—like a family member or best friend—they’re actually more likely to yawn because of that empathetic connection.
Not everyone has this reflex, though. People with autism spectrum disorder or those with conditions that alter social development are less likely to catch a yawn. The same is true of children whose brains are still developing psychosocial connections.
The next time you’re at dinner with family or sitting next to your office best friend and someone yawns, you probably will feel one come on yourself. Just know it’s totally natural, and no, you’re not making the whole thing up in your head.