fizkes/ShutterstockIt’s an age-old question: Are yawns actually contagious? By this point, the average person would give the phenomenon a thumbs-up. Countless studies have backed it up, too—not to mention yawning after someone else even makes you seem trustworthy, research says.
But an experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford, Rohan Kapitány, wasn’t convinced. Instead, he asked: What if yawning isn’t actually contagious?
The truth might surprise you! After reviewing the literature, Kapitány’s research found no proof of a conclusive trend.
“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… In this instance, the literature hasn’t questioned the basic features of contagious yawning, and ended up with a wide range of unstandardized methodologies and conclusions.”
So Kapitány decided to set the record straight. In his experiment, researchers placed a group of 79 college students together at a table and played Chopin’s Complete Nocturnes through their headphones. While some of the participants were blindfolded, the others were not. Then, the researchers counted the number of times each person yawned, including when and if they did so after seeing somebody else do it.
The good news: Initial results supported the contagious-yawn theory; the participants’ yawns increased over time, especially among the non-blindfolded folks. But more detailed data suggests that everything was not as it seemed.
According to Kapitány, one person’s yawn could not reliably make another person yawn. In other words, there didn’t seem to be a causal relationship between the two. Looks like we no longer have an excuse for our 2 p.m. drowsiness, unfortunately.
But don’t lose hope yet! Kapitány says that more research is needed to make a definitive conclusion, rather than “simply demonstrating it over and over [in] slightly different contexts with richer and richer explanations.” Science, you heard the man—quit snoozing, and get moving!
Still bummed? If it makes you feel any better, check out these other surprising things you didn’t know were contagious (restaurant orders, anyone?).