While scientists don’t have all the answers there are some theories – including that empathy may play a key role.
“We tend to copy or mimic the yawns of people who are familiar to us rather than random people. We think it has something to do with empathy. If we know someone, if we’ve got a good social connection to them, we’re more likely to feel empathy for them so we’re more likely to feel upset when they’re upset, feel happy when they’re happy and also to perhaps yawn when they yawn.”
Further strengthening the empathy argument is the fact that children don’t start contagious yawning until they’re four or five years old (which Dr Hudry said would coincide with when they start to feel empathy) and studies of autistic children have found they don’t succumb to contagious yawning as much as other children.
by bronwen wade