It’s a common observation among adults that when someone yawns, one is sure to yawn shortly after, otherwise called “contagious yawning.” What about babies? Are they also affected with this? A new study claims that no, babies are not affected by this “yawning phenomenon.”
James Anderson and Alisa Milleon from the University of Stirling reveal that yawning among babies and toddlers is spontaneous. They don’t start succumbing to contagious yawning until they are at least five years old.
Empathy and Mimicry: Probable Triggers of Contagious Yawning
The researchers speculate that contagious yawning is partly brought about by feelings of empathy and the act of mimicry, which is developed during a child’s first few years of life. A previous study has shown that contagious yawning fully develops at the age of 12.
Says Anderson, "People who score highly for empathy are significantly more likely to show contagious yawning. What we know from other research is that one part of the brain that continues to develop through out childhood is the frontal cortex and that the frontal lobes play a role in social decision making and the ability to empathise. That would tie in with the gradual development of contagious yawning during childhood."
To look into contagious yawning, researchers did a two-part study by monitoring the development of contagious yawning among children at different stages of social development.
In the first part of the study, mothers played a part in the study by recording how many times and when their kids would cry.
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Results showed that babies between six and 34 months were more likely to yawn mostly in the morning or after naps. In terms of duration, these babies were found to yawn at an average of twice daily which is in no way near to the average of humans, which is seven to nine times daily. 50% of adults yawn if they see another person yawning.
None also displayed signs of contagious yawning.
The second part of the study, the researchers studied the yawning behavior of 22 preschoolers, the average ages of whom were two. These kids were showed video clippings of animals, babies, adults and even their own mothers yawning. The video clippings induced only three out of the 22 babies, strongly implying that babies and preschoolers have low vulnerability to yawning compared to adults and other children.
Says Anderson, “Young children may also do less contagious yawning simply because they don't have the same pressures or social inhibitions as adults: They yawn where they like and when they like.”
Need for further research using a naturalistic setting
Anderson also noted though that there might be a need for a more natural setting to study further the effects of seeing someone yawning among babies and preschoolers. "I'd like some more naturalistic data [a real person instead of a video] on contagious yawning, to see whether children are more likely to show contagious yawning at home, for example. Or perhaps we might see the origins of contagious yawning, especially when the infant is tired and the mother yawns."
Photo from flickr.com
• December 6, 2010. Neharika Sabharwal. “Yawning not contagious in babies – study” themedguro.com
• December 1, 2010. Abbie Thomas. “Yawning doesn’t catch on in babies” www.abc.net.au
• December 3, 2010. “Study: Yawning Not Contagious To Babies” GrowingYourBaby.com