Why is Yawning so Contagious?

A team of experts from the University of Nottingham has published a research regarding “a neural basis for contagious yawning” in the academic journal Current Biology suggests that human tendency for contagious yawning is triggered automatically by primitive reflexes of the primary motor cortex. The ability to resist yawning when someone near us yawns is limited and urge to yawn is increased even more if it is resisted forcefully. Contagious yawning is a common form of echophenomena (automatic imitative behavior). Echophenomena is also observed in Tourette’s syndrome, epilepsy and autism conditions.

The research team recruited 36 adult volunteers and used external Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) on them to increase the excitability in the motor cortex and tested the link between the neural basis of contagious yawning and motor cortex excitability. Urge to yawn was increased by using the external stimulation.

Georgina Jackson, professor of cognitive neuropsychology who worked on the study, said the finding could have wider uses, “In Tourette’s, if we could reduce the excitability we might reduce the ticks, and that’s what we are working on.”

Prof Stephen Jackson, who also worked on the research, added, “If we can understand how alterations in cortical excitability give rise to neural disorders we can potentially reverse them. We are looking for potential non-drug, personalized treatments, using TMS that might be effective in modulating imbalances in the brain networks.”

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