Shine On

Why yawning may actually be a compliment

Recent research suggests that yawning is more courageous with those you are close to. (Thinkstock)The contagious yawn has long been something we've fought hard to suppress, for fear of offending the company we keep. Now, a new study reveals that far from betraying your boredom, a nice big, wide-mouthed yawn may actually be a sign you feel close to whomever you're yawning with.

This most recent study investigating the science of the yawn looked at the yawning patterns of a type of chimpanzee called a Bonobo, reports E Science News.

Researchers at the University of Pisa, Italy, found that yawning is more contagious when the chimps are more strongly bonded, either as family or as close friends. In other words, a Bonobo is more likely to catch a yawn from his brother or buddy then from that weird new guy. Bonobos were also more likely to catch a yawn from a female.

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Similar behaviour has also been observed in previous studies of humans, but researchers are still unclear as to why we yawn more easily in the company of loved ones.

The authors of this most recent study, published in the open source journal PLoS ONE, suggest that yawning may be a way of unconsciously communicating empathy to those you care about.  According to the authors, "The linkage between yawn contagion and empathy in humans is supported by clinical, psychological, neurobiological, and ethological clues."

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We're more likely to be empathetic to those we are close to, so it makes sense that we catch yawns more easily from kin and friends. The researchers also note that previous studies have shown that individuals who have mental disorders that cause a lack empathy also lack the yawn mimicking behaviour.

Interestingly, a recent study of yawning in puppies (the cutest study ever conducted) found that young dogs only started catching yawns around the age of seven months. The propensity to catch a yawn also increases with maturity in humans, who begin to mimic the action around the age of four.

All of this is just science's way of saying that the next time Aunt Edna shows you her tonsils, you'll have an excellent excuse for doing the same.  

Watch the video below to see an adorable baby sloth yawn.


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