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Contagious Yawning Apart From Empathy

Update Date: Mar 16, 2014 12:24 AM EDT

Contagious yawning might decrease with age but is not at all related to variables such as empathy, tiredness and energy levels, a new research has found. The findings of the study are contrasting with previous studies that suggested a connection between contagious yawning and empathy. 

Researchers said a better understanding of the biology involved in contagious yawning could led to illness such as schizophrenia or autism.

"The lack of association in our study between contagious yawning and empathy suggests that contagious yawning is not simply a product of one's capacity for empathy," said study author Elizabeth Cirulli, Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at the Center for Human Genome Variation at Duke University School of Medicine, according to press release.

Previous researches proved that yawning occurs only in humans and chimpanzees in response to hearing, seeing or even thinking about yawning. Evidently, it differed from spontaneous yawning that occurs when someone is bored and tired. 

"Age was the most important predictor of contagious yawning, and even age was not that important. The vast majority of variation in the contagious yawning response was just not explained," Cirulli said.

Previous studies have also shown relationship between yawning and empathy. Others have established correlations between contagious yawning and intelligence or time of day. However the recent study has strongly opposed the previous related notions. 

"It is possible that if we find a genetic variant that makes people less likely to have contagious yawns, we might see that variant or variants of the same gene also associated with schizophrenia or autism," Cirulli said. "Even if no association with a disease is found, a better understanding of the biology behind contagious yawning can inform us about the pathways involved in these conditions."

The study has been published in journal PLOS ONE.

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