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A yawn as good as a kiss between friends and family

posted 24 Jan 2012, 05:11 by Mpelembe Admin   [ updated 24 Jan 2012, 05:34 ]
 
Italian researchers say that contagious yawning occurs at a faster rate among friends and family than strangers. Their study, aimed at advancing the understanding of empathy between people, also uncovered similar findings among other primates. Jim Drury reports.
 
REUTERS/HANDOUT - Yawning is infectious. When someone else yawns, you might yawn too, even if you're not tired.

Now Italian researchers Elisabetta Palagi and Ivan Norscia believe they've solved the mystery of yawn contagion.

They say it's a form of emotional transmission - and that the closer you are genetically or empathically with the person yawning, the more likely it will be that you'll do the same.

ELISABETTA PALAGI, PISA UNIVERSITY TECHNICIAN AND FELLOW AUTHOR OF THE PAPER ON YAWN CONTAGION, SAYING:

"Through the face animals can be connected to each other socially and emotionally. In fact there are evidence that emotional contagion pass through facial expression......Yawning is a good candidate to understand such emotional transmission between two different subjects."

Palagi and Norscia, from the Natural History Museum in Calvi, studied more than 100 adults for more than a year, watching their subjects in a variety of settings.

They also studied primates such as gelada baboons, bonobos, and lemurs in Madagascar.

Their observations suggest that empathy plays a part in controlling contagious yawning.

IVAN NORSCIA, SCIENTIST AND CO-AUTHOR OF THE PAPER ON YAWN CONTAGION, SAYING:

"What we didn't expect is to find an exact match between the empathic trend, which in humans is known to go from strangers to acquaintances to friends to kin in yawn contagion as well. So we didn't expect that exact matching, so that is the most interesting part, I think, of our study. And also that yawn latency, so the time gap between the yawn trigger, the triggering yawn, the response also it is shorter in friends and kin."

Norscia believes the activation of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in the brain is associated with the urge to yawn by contagion, especially when in response to yawning by friends or relatives.

IVAN NORSCIA, SCIENTIST AND CO-AUTHOR OF THE PAPER ON YAWN CONTAGION, SAYING:

"A wider brain area may be involved when we're talking about friends or kin, so that the neuro process can be different. So maybe there's a more direct way we processed yawns coming from loved ones. I don't know, maybe because we use memory, maybe we are more capable to match their face expression to our face expression or maybe because we can anticipate that expression."

The pair believe the phenomenon could become useful in assessing people suffering from empathy deficit disorders, such as autism which hinders normal human interaction.

Counting the minutes between the yawns of our loved ones and ourselves might also become a test of the state of the relationship...whether or not we're simply tired of one another.

Jim Drury, Reuters

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