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An investigation of auditory contagious yawning

Abstract

Despite a widespread familiarity with the often compelling urge to yawn after perceiving someone else yawn, an understanding of the neural mechanism underlying contagious yawning remains incomplete. In the present auditory fMRI study, listeners used a 4-point scale to indicate how much they felt like yawning following the presentation of a yawn, breath, or scrambled yawn sound. Not only were yawn sounds given significantly higher ratings, a trait positively correlated with each individual’s empathy measure, but relative to control stimuli, random effects analyses revealed enhanced hemodynamic activity in the right posterior inferior frontal gyrus (pIFG) in response to hearing yawns. Moreover, pIFG activity was greatest for yawn stimuli associated with high as opposed to low yawn ratings and for control sounds associated with equally high yawn ratings. These results support a relationship between contagious yawning and empathy and provide evidence for pIFG involvement in contagious yawning. A supplemental figure for this study may be downloaded from http://cabn.psychonomic-journals.org/content/supplemental.

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Correspondence to Stephen R. Arnott.

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This research was supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research to S.R.A. and M.A.G.

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Arnott, S.R., Singhal, A. & Goodale, M.A. An investigation of auditory contagious yawning. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience 9, 335–342 (2009). https://doi.org/10.3758/CABN.9.3.335

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Keywords

  • Motor Imagery
  • Mirror Neuron
  • Mirror Neuron System
  • Cognitive Brain Research
  • Empathy Quotient