It may not be one of life’s deepest mysteries, but as scientific conundrums go, it has a peculiar staying power. Why is yawning contagious? Researchers recently found that yawning isn’t only catching among people; it is also among chimpanzees.No one has devised a fully convincing explanation of why.
Compounding the mystery is the odd way in which the contagious power of yawning is largely unconscious. We can see someone yawn, yearn to replicate the action ourselves, and do it, all without thinking about it. Other times we’re aware it is happening, though it still floats somewhere beneath the realm of reason and of purposeful actions.
So what gives? In an effort to find the answer, the Finnish government recently funded a brain scanning study. The results turned up some hard-to-interpret, possible clues. It also confirmed the obvious: yawn contagion is largely unconscious. Wherever it might affect the brain, it bypasses the known brain circuitry for consciously analyzing and mimicking other people’s actions.
"And I bet you just yawned looking at that picture...heh."