Is yawning really contagious?

25 Mar

Yesterday was election day in Queensland. And as I predicted, the ruling Labour Party was shellacked to the point where it may no longer even qualify as a party.

The avalanche of seats falling to the Liberal party was so all-encompassing it soon became boring. So the guests at a friend’s election party took to trying to get Channel 9 to show off their tweets.

Most of us failed but one friend, Rob, made the cut with this gem: “Please tweet this so Lisa has to pay me $5”. Which I did.  Although it made things a bit expensive when they persisted in showing it time after time after time.

Anyway, I ended up bailing early because I was so exhausted I couldn’t stop yawning and didn’t want  it to spread to everyone else. But as I shared my admittedly weak explanation, I suddenly wondered if this urban myth was actually true. There was only team I trusted to tell me the answer. The MythBusters of course.

And here’s the experiment they conducted on the topic.

MYTH: IS YAWNING CONTAGIOUS?

Explanation: A 2006 study found monkeys yawn in response to seeing other monkeys yawn. Could it be then that yawning is similarly contagious in humans, monkeys’ fellow primates?

MythBusters Kari Byron, Tory Belleci and Scottie Chapman corralled unwitting volunteers to find out whether people unconsciously pick up this jaw-dropping behavior from each other. To that end, the MythBuster team converted a large van into a psychological chamber designed to relax participants and prompt them to unknowingly catch a yawn from Kari.

Many hours and many participants later, the MythBusters’ data showed that when people inside the van weren’t exposed to Kari’s yawning, they still yawned 25 percent of the time. But when Kari caught flies in front of them, they yawned 4 percent more often. Though that’s not an enormous increase, since they tested 50 people in the field, the gap was still wide enough for the MythBusters to confirm that yawning is indeed contagious.

STATUS: CONFIRMED

Yet that wasn’t the end of my discoveries for the day. On a whim I jumped into Adam’s biography only to discover he has quite the Hollywood background beyond the show. Which isn’t surprising when you discover his father was a puppeteer on The Muppets.

Here’s some interesting things he’s done  …

* Appeared in the video for Billy Joel’s Only Human (Second Wind).

* Worked as a model maker on everything from the Matrix trilogy and Galaxy Quest to Attack of the Clones and Home Alone 3.

* Played himself on The Simpsons.

* Worked on commercials for everyone from Burger King to Coca-Cola.

Pretty cool stuff, hey? And Jamie’s background is just as varied and interesting. But let’s save him for another time…

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