A new study in South Africa has found that yawning is contagious in Lions as well.
Johannesburg, South Africa (12 April 2021) – Yawning is definitely contagious, even videos of people doing it can trigger a yawning session, and now, a new study in South Africa has found that yawning is contagious in Lions as well.
There are many theories as to why people yawn. One popular theory is that yawning helps your body bring in more oxygen. But this theory has been mostly debunked.
The most scientifically backed theory about why we yawn is brain temperature regulation. A 2014 study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior looked at the yawning habits of 120 people and found that yawning occurred less during the winter. If the brain’s temperature gets too far outside of the norm, inhaling air can help cool it down.
But the bigger question is, why does seeing someone yawn cause another person to do the same?
What is known is that the behaviour is contagious. The likelihood of yawning increases sixfold, according to one study, after seeing someone else yawn.
As for yawn contagion, PBS News Hour interviewed James Giordano, a neuroethicist and neuroscientist at Georgetown University, who said it might be related to a phenomenon called social mirroring, where organisms imitate the actions of others.
“Other behaviours fall into this category, such as scratching, leg crossing and laughing. This behaviour could be linked to mirror neurons in the brain.”
“What these neurons are involved in is matching what we sense and feel to the way we move,” Giordano said. “So if someone is seeing me scratch my face, they would know what it feels like. You may be compelled to do it too.”
And a new study here in South Africa has found that after yawning together, lions were 11 times more likely to copy the actions of the individual that yawned first.
National Geographic recently wrote an article about the study and how Lions mimic each other’s yawns and subsequent behaviour. If a Lion yawned, then other Lions who had seen the action would also yawn, and if one Lion got up to move to another spot, a big cat who saw the action would also copy it.
“For five months, Elisabetta Palagi – an ethologist at the University of Pisa in Pisa, Italy – and colleagues filmed 19 lions in two prides living at Makalali Game Reserve. The results revealed the likelihood of yawning was more than 139 times higher if a lion had just seen a pride member yawning compared with not seeing the action.
Spontaneous yawning was particularly frequent when the lions were relaxed and transitioning between sleeping and waking or vice versa, the researchers observed. This supports their hypothesis that in lions, as in humans, yawning increases blood flow and brain cooling—and likely alertness.”
Scientists believe such synchronized behaviour enables the pride to work as a team, finding food and spotting threats to the group.
You can read more about this fascinating behaviour by clicking here.