So, even if yawns are contagious, they’re less so than we had originally thought.
WE YAWN IN CLUSTERS
According to their behavioral study, 95% of all yawns by an individual were followed by another of their own yawns within a span of five minutes. That might not sound relevant, but deviations from random or uniform behaviors throw a wrench in analyses that is hard to pull out. Additionally, it shows we’re far more likely to “catch” a yawn not from another individual, but instead ourselves.
WE YAWN MORE OFTEN IN SOCIAL SETTINGS…
…but it doesn’t mean yawns have to be contagious. In fact, we’re not entirely sure why this happens. There are plenty of possible explanations out there, but we really just don’t know.
Researchers in the study did find that those without blindfolds on in a group setting will yawn more often than those blindfolded.
They also showed that a spontaneous yawn does not reliably elicit a response yawn within a three-minute window. That’s huge. We’ve also already established that even if there were plenty of yawns in this time window, there’s a good chance these could be incidental as opposed to response yawns.
*Yawn* Is it over yet?
What we do know now is that we know far less about yawning than we originally thought.
Critique is necessary for progress, and these researchers provided it in spades. While one study cannot disprove thirty years of research and millennia of widely held beliefs, the paper does bring into question the validity of past research and some glaring issues that have been overlooked by others in the field.