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FEATURE ARTICLE

Yawning

The yawn is primal, unstoppable and contagious, revealing the evolutionary and neural basis of empathy and unconscious behavior

Robert Provine

Figure 2. The physiological requirements for a yawn...Click to Enlarge Image

Yawning, that universal signal of boredom and sleepiness, is so contagious that merely reading this article will inspire many readers to yawn. The neurobehavioral basis of yawning and its contagious nature are well understood, yet certain myths persist—for example, the belief that yawning is a response to oxygen deprivation. In fact we begin yawning in the womb, and most vertebrates yawn; yet contagious yawning is confirmed only in humans and chimps. Yawning may a tool for studying the roots of social behavior and of certain pathologies such as autism and schizophrenia.


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