Scientists: Maybe Yawning Isn’t Contagious After All

iStock
iStock

Everyone knows that yawning is contagious. What this new study presupposes is … maybe it isn’t? The report was published in the journal Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology.

Anecdotal evidence—that is, our own lives—certainly suggests that the act of yawning spreads. Many studies have documented the phenomenon as well. And humans aren’t the only ones; we've seen rats, chimpanzees, dogs, and even parakeets pass yawns to each other.

But have we really proven it? Rohan Kapitány of the University of Oxford says no. The experimental psychologist conducted a review of the scientific literature on contagious yawns and found very little conclusive evidence to back up our assumption.

“The belief that yawns are contagious seems self-evident,” Kapitány told PsyPost, “but there are some very basic reasons for why we might be mistaken in this. If we fail to dissect that which we think we know, we might end up with conclusions that do not reflect reality. In this instance, the literature hasn’t questioned the basic features of contagious yawning, and ended up with a wide range of unstandardised methodologies and conclusions.”

So Kapitány and his colleague Mark Nielsen designed an experiment to put those conclusions to the test. They recruited 79 college students—psychologists’ favorite guinea pigs—and broke them into small groups. Each group sat around a table together, wearing headphones that played Chopin’s Complete Nocturnes. Some of the participants were blindfolded, and some were not. The sessions were videotaped.

Afterward, the researchers calculated the number of times each person yawned, and when, and whether they did so after seeing somebody else do it.

On their surface, the initial results supported the contagious-yawn concept. The longer the participants sat in the room together, the more they yawned, especially if they could see other people.

But things got murkier once the researchers dug deeper into the data. Their findings suggested that one person’s yawn could not reliably make another person yawn within 3 minutes. Everybody yawned, but there didn’t seem to be a causal relationship between one person’s yawn and another’s.

This study was small and extremely limited, and the authors urge other scientists to challenge their findings with experiments of their own.

“I may be wrong!” Kapitány said. “Maybe yawns are contagious!" Kapitány says he’d like to see “more robust” attempts to falsify the claim that yawns are contagious rather than “simply demonstrating it over and over [in] slightly different contexts with richer and richer explanations.”

NOTE: We used the word “yawn” 17 times in this article. We’re yawning now. We bet you are, too. More research is definitely needed.

[h/t PsyPost]

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

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Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

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100 Fascinating Facts About Earth

The best Spaceball.
The best Spaceball.
NASA

Did you know that there’s a place in the South Pacific Ocean called Point Nemo that’s farther from land than any other point on Earth? So far, in fact, that the closest humans are usually astronauts aboard the International Space Station. (And by the way: The map you’re about to look for Point Nemo on might not be entirely accurate; a certain amount of distortion occurs when trying to depict a 3D planet on a 2D surface.)

In this all-new episode of The List Show, Mental Floss editor-in-chief Erin McCarthy is journeying to the center of the Earth, and visiting its oceans, its atmosphere, and even space, in search of 100 facts about our endlessly fascinating planet.

The subjects that fall under the umbrella of “facts about Earth” are nearly as expansive as Earth itself. Geology, biology, astronomy, and cartography, are all fair game—and those are just a few of the many -ologies, -onomies, and -ographies you’ll learn about below. 

Press play to find out more Earth-shattering facts, and subscribe to the Mental Floss YouTube channel for more fact-filled videos here.