Ever wondered why yawning seems to be an addictive act? Well now we know why...
There’s something about a good yawn that is just so unapologetically satisfying – and more so when someone else hears it and chimes in with their own public display of sleepiness, thus sparking off a convo about how knackered everyone is. (Happens every day, no?).
And now there’s a reason for all this: science says contagious yawning is a marker of how empathetic we are.
Researchers from Pisa University in Italy studied sleepy people for five years and discovered that yawning is triggered by social and gender factors such as how well we know each other, and whether we’re surrounded by other men and women.
They found that yawning is often a response to someone else doing the same thing, which demonstrates our ability to empathise – and the phenomena is more common amoungst women than men.
Although men and women yawn spontaneously at the same rate, women are more likely to ‘return’ someone’s yawn because they’re better at picking up on how others are doing.
Experts secretly studied people in hundreds of different social situations and concluded that women unconsciously mimic the emotional state of others through yawning and facial expressions, and if participants returned someone else’s yawn within three minutes, that showed they were particularly tuned in to the thoughts and feelings of others.
The rates of contagion were also lower between acquaintances than between friends and family members.
Explaining the results, the study authors said the behaviour was also displayed in animals that live in extreme proximity with one another such as such as chimps, dogs and wolves, and added: ‘These results not only confirm that yawn contagion is sensitive to social closeness, but also that the phenomenon is affected by the same gender bias affecting empathy.’
So basically, if you’re tired, female and with your mates, one yawn is more likely to set you all off than if you’re a bloke at work.
Women united in their collective exhaustion? Sounds about right to us. In fact, several studies have shown that women generally sleep less than men for several biological and sociological factors.