COUNCIL CHRONICLE – Yawning is one of the most “contagious” things as most people tend to replicate the effects after seeing someone else doing it. Just like smiling and frowning, for example, it is one of the actions which humans tend to unconsciously replicate, and a new study believes to have found the reason for this.
University of Nottingham in the UK researchers conducted a study which studied the human reaction upon “catching” a yawn, be it after witnessing it in real life, in a photo, video, or even from reading about it.
Yawning Was Named “a Common Form of Echophenomena”
The study involved 36 adults which were asked to watch a video of another person yawning. At the same time, the participants’ brain activity was measured through TMS or transcranial magnetic stimulation.
One of the experiments in the study had the participants try and stifle their yawning impulse upon watching the videos. In case they were unable to do so, they were advised to simply ‘yawn freely’.
Another experiment had the same demands while also receiving electrical stimulation to the scalp. According to the research team, telling people not to yawn only led to an increase in their desire to do so.
“Contagious yawning, in which yawning is triggered involuntarily when we observe another person yawn, is a common form of echophenomena — the automatic imitation of another’s words (echolalia) or actions (echopraxia),” stated the scientists.
Georgina Jackson explained that the “urge” to yawn seemed to increase as people tried to stop themselves from performing this action. She is the senior study author and a cognitive neuropsychology professor.
The study team went to determine how each participants’ motor cortex worked. Based on this, they also measured its excitability. Researchers noted that increasing the excitability also led to a rise in the tendency to yawn.
They also determined that if a person has a higher brain activity in the motor cortex, they are more inclined to yawn.
Professor Jackson then went to explain that this discovery could have “wider uses”. Namely, it might help with Tourette’s syndrome. As she explains, by reducing the excitability, specialists might contribute to reducing the ticks.
The team is currently working on developing this. They are looking to possibly achieve “potential non-drug, personalized treatments” which use TMS for it.
Current study results revolving around yawning were released in the journal Current Biology.
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