Journal of Ethology

, Volume 29, Issue 2, pp 215–219 | Cite as

The daily time course of contagious and spontaneous yawning among humans



Yawning, besides being a spontaneous behavior, can also be evoked by observing others yawn. However, contagious yawning does not always occur, depending possibly on several factors, such as one’s propensity to spontaneously yawn and a heightened level of sleepiness. The aim of this study is to investigate in young adults whether contagious yawning frequency varies throughout the day, and if it is related to the daily time course of spontaneous yawning frequency and level of sleepiness. For the study, 22 subjects were instructed to log hourly, throughout wakefulness, the number of spontaneous yawns and sleepiness level. Subjects were required to continue this procedure for 3 consecutive days, after which they underwent five experimental sessions occurring at regular intervals throughout the same day. During each experimental session, subjects observed others yawn (stimulus condition) and smile (control condition). Our findings show that the contagious effect of yawning is always present throughout the daytime. Both contagious and spontaneous yawning peaked in the early morning and in the late evening, according to the sleepiness time course. However, the frequency of spontaneous yawns was remarkably lower than the frequency of contagious yawns around 19:00. This difference suggests that different mechanisms control spontaneous and contagious yawning.


Contagious yawning Spontaneous yawning Sleepiness Young adults 


  1. Akerstedt T, Folkard S (1995) Validation of the S and C components of the three-process model of alertness regulation. Sleep 18:1–6PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson JR, Meno P (2003) Psychological influences on yawning in children. Curr Psychol Lett 11. doi:
  3. Anderson JR, Myowa-Yamakoshi M, Matsuzawa T (2004) Contagious yawning in chimpanzees. Proc Biol Sci 271(Suppl 6):S468–S470PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baenninger R (1997) On yawning and its functions. Psychonomic Bull Rev 4:198–207CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baenninger R, Binkley S, Baenninger M (1996) Field observations of yawning and activity in humans. Physiol Behav 59:421–425PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Borbely AA (1982) A two process model of sleep regulation. Hum Neurobiol 1:195–204PubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Campbell MW, Carter JD, Proctor D, Eisenberg ML, de Waal FB (2009) Computer animations stimulate contagious yawning in chimpanzees. Proc Biol Sci 276:4255–4259PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. de Vries JIP, Visser GHA, Prechtl HFR (1982) The emergence of fetal behavior. I. Qualitative aspects. Early Hum Dev 7:301–322PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Ficca G, Salzarulo P (2002) Lo sbadiglio dello struzzo. Psicologia e biologia dello sbadiglio. Bollati Boringhieri, TorinoGoogle Scholar
  10. Giganti F, Esposito Ziello M (2009) Contagious and spontaneous yawning in autistic and typically developing children. Curr Psychol Lett 25. doi:
  11. Giganti F, Hayes MJ, Akilesh MR, Salzarulo P (2002) Yawning and behavioral states in premature infants. Dev Psychobiol 41:289–296PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Giganti F, Hayes MJ, Cioni G, Salzarulo P (2007) Yawning frequency and distribution in preterm and near term infants assessed throughout 24-h recordings. Infant Behav Dev 30:641–647PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Giganti F, Zilli I, Aboudan S, Salzarulo P (2010) Sleep, sleepiness and yawning. In: Walusinski O (ed) The mystery of yawning in physiology and disease. Karger, Basel, pp 42–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Guggisberg AG, Mathis J, Schnider A, Hess CW (2010) Why do we yawn? Neurosci Biobehav Rev 34:1267–1276PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lavie P (1986) Ultrashort sleep-waking schedule. III. ‘Gates’ and ‘forbidden zones’ for sleep. Electroencephalogr Clin Neurophysiol 63:414–425PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Palagi E, Leone A, Mancini G, Ferrari PF (2009) Contagious yawning in gelada baboons as a possible expression of empathy. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:19262–19267PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Paukner A, Anderson JR (2006) Video-induced yawning in stumptail macaques (Macaca arctoides). Biol Lett 2:36–38PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Piaget J (1951) Play, dreams and imitation in childhood. Norton, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  19. Platek SM, Critton SR, Myers TE, Gallup GG Jr (2003) Contagious yawning: the role of self-awareness and mental state attribution. Brain Res Cogn Brain Res 17:223–227PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Provine RR (1986) Yawning as a stereotyped action pattern and releasing stimulus. Ethology 72:109–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Provine RR (2005) Yawning. Am Sci 93:532–539Google Scholar
  22. Provine RR, Hamernik HB (1986) Yawning: effects of stimulus interest. Bull Psychonomic Soc 24:437–438Google Scholar
  23. Provine RR, Hamernik HB, Curchack BB (1987) Yawning: relation to sleeping and stretching in humans. Ethology 76:152–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Schürmann M, Hesse MD, Stephan KE, Saarela M, Zilles K, Hari R, Fink GR (2005) Yearning to yawn: the neural basis of contagious yawning. Neuroimage 24:1260–1264PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Senju A, Maeda M, Kikuchi Y, Hasegawa T, Tojo Y, Osanai H (2007) Absence of contagious yawning in children with autism spectrum disorder. Biol Lett 3:706–708PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Walusinski O, Deputte BL (2004) Le baillement: phylogenese, ethologie, nosogenie. Rev Neurol 160:1011–1021PubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Walusinski O, Kurjak A, Andonotopo W, Azumendi G (2005) Fetal yawning assessed by 3D and 4D sonograph. Ultrasound Rev Obstet Gynecol 5:210–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Zilli I, Giganti F, Salzarulo P (2007) Yawning in morning and evening types. Physiol Behav 91:218–222PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Zilli I, Giganti F, Uga V (2008) Yawning and subjective sleepiness in the elderly. J Sleep Res 17:303–308PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Japan Ethological Society and Springer 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sleep Lab, Department of PsychologyUniversity of FlorenceFlorenceItaly

Personalised recommendations