Open broad: why yawning exposes much about your level of empathy

When you find someone yawn and stretch, what do you feel like doing? The answer may surprise you, says Ben Ambridge

Heres a simple personality exam to try on whoever is sitting opposite you as you read this column. When youre somewhat sure that he or she is looking at you but without checking too obviously yawn. Does the other person follow suit ?

If they do, it suggests that your companion is a somewhat empathic person( or at least has a fair sum of empathy for you ). A growing body of proof been shown that contagious yawning is closely linked to empathy. For starters, newborns dont catch yawns. Yawn contagion only starts to appear around the age of four or five, about the same day as empathy.

Secondly, people with psychopathic personality traits, and people with autism a condition associated with lower levels of empathy are also less likely to catch yawns. And the closer you are to someone, the more likely you are to catch their yawn. A recent study found that yawn contagion was highest among family members, lower for friends, lower still for acquaintances and lowest for strangers( the same is also true among chimps and bonobos ).

Finally, a study published earlier this year found that women who, on average, score higher than men on exams of empathy are also more likely to catch yawns.

Oh, one more thing. Did you yawn while reading this? A examine done more than 20 years ago found that simply reading about yawning is appropriate to cause many people to do so.

For a fully referenced version of this article, go to benambridge.com. Fancy some more quizzes? Order Psy-Q by Ben Ambridge( Profile Books, 8.99) or 6.99 from bookshop.theguardian.com

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