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New Clues to Why Yawns Are Contagious

2 months, 2 weeks ago

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Posted on Sep 08, 2017, 1 p.m.

The researchers found that it's hard to resist yawning when you see someone yawn, and the urge to yawn gets stronger when you're told not to do it. The researchers also found that people differ in their vulnerability to yawns.

(HealthDay News) -- The "contagiousness" of yawns may be rooted in primitive brain reflexes, British researchers report.

Echophenomena is the term for contagious movements such as yawns. Humans tend to yawn when they see others yawn, and so do chimpanzees and dogs.

Researchers at the University of Nottingham wondered where the roots of this type of echophenomena are located. They examined 36 adults as they looked at video clips of people yawning. The participants were told to either try to stop themselves from yawning or just let it happen.

The researchers found that it's hard to resist yawning when you see someone yawn, and the urge to yawn gets stronger when you're told not to do it. The researchers also found that people differ in their vulnerability to yawns.

"We suggest that these findings may be particularly important in understanding further the association between motor excitability and the occurrence of echophenomena in a wide range of clinical conditions... such as epilepsy, dementia, autism and Tourette syndrome," said study leader Stephen Jackson. He's a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Nottingham.

The researchers also tried to manipulate contagious yawning through a kind of electrical stimulation.

"This research has shown that the 'urge' is increased by trying to stop yourself. Using electrical stimulation, we were able to increase excitability and in doing so increase the propensity for contagious yawning," said Georgina Jackson, a professor of cognitive neuropsychology.

"In Tourette's, if we could reduce the excitability we might reduce the tics, and that's what we are working on," she said in a Nottingham news release.

The work with electrical stimulation suggests that the brain's primary motor cortex plays a role in contagious yawning, the researchers said.

“This research is interesting. I see nothing that excessive yawning indicates a lack of sleep from the test subjects. I would suspect that this really needs to be looked at. I was initially drawn to this article, because I like half the people I know don’t like people yawning around me. When people yawn around me, I start to yawn, and I know I am not the only one,” pointed out Dr. Ronald Klatz, President of the A4M.

The findings were published Aug. 31 in the journal Current Biology.

More information

For details about why people yawn, see the Library of Congress.

SOURCE: University of Nottingham, press release, Aug. 31, 2017

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Dr. Ronald Klatz, DO, MD President of the A4M has 28,000 Physician Members, has trained over 150,000 Physicians, health professionals and scientists in the new specialty of Anti-aging medicine. Estimates of their patients numbering in the 100’s of millions World Wide that are living better stronger, healthier and longer lives. www.WorldHealth.net

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