Saturday, 18 November, 2017

Here's Why Yawns Are So Contagious

Former US President Barack Obama yawns as he attends the East Asian Summit Plenary Session in 2012 Former US President Barack Obama yawns as he attends the East Asian Summit Plenary Session in 2012
Connie Andrews | 04 September, 2017, 07:47

Contagious yawns aren't limited to humans. Which, I think we all know from personal experience, it certainly is.

"Some of us have a network engine is particularly sensitive, and are very susceptible to yawn contagious, while others are less so", says Stephen Jackson, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the university of Nottignham, and lead author of the study.

The 36 participants were asked to view video clips of other people yawning and were instructed to resist yawning or allow themselves to yawn; the number of their yawns, stifled yawns as well as the intensity of their apparent urge to yawn were continuously recorded in a video. Nonetheless, urge-to-yawn estimates increased significantly when participants were instructed to resist yawning.

A study named "A neural basis for contagious yawning" conducted at the University of Nottingham suggests that primitive reflexes that originate in the primary motor cortex, a section of the brain accountable for motor function, are responsible for automatically initiating the human tendency for contagious yawning.

Some were told to stifle the yawn and other were told it was fine to yawn. It is a common form of echophenomena - the automatic imitation of another's words (echolalia) or actions (echopraxia).

The researchers also found applying electrical stimulation drove the necessity to yawn, which could help in the treatment of some disorders. Yawning is also extremely contagious. You see someone yawn, and no matter how hard you try to stifle a yawn yourself, you can't help but open your mouth and take in that additional oxygen. The fact that TMS readings of the motor cortex proved to be such accurate predictors of the behavior suggests that this area of the brain has a key role to play in the behavior, possibly in echophenomena at large.

"The findings may be important in understanding the association between motor excitability and the occurrence of Echophenomena in a wide range of conditions linked to increased cortical excitability and/or decreased physiological inhibition such as epilepsy, dementia, autism, and Tourette syndrome", added Stephen Jackson, a Professor at the University. They also used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to measure the response in the motor cortex, and predict the "propensity of contagious yawning" among volunteers. Now, a new study notes that not only is yawning contagious, but suppressing one can make the urge even stronger, resulting in bigger yawns, TIME reports.

Regardless of the cause, it's probably a safe bet that you're yawning right now.

The neural basis for echophenomena is unknown.

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