Contagious yawning: the role of self-awareness and mental state attribution

Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2003 Jul;17(2):223-7. doi: 10.1016/s0926-6410(03)00109-5.


Contagious yawning is a common, but poorly understood phenomenon. We hypothesized that contagious yawning is part of a more general phenomenon known as mental state attribution (i.e. the ability to inferentially model the mental states of others). To test this hypothesis we compared susceptibility to contagiously yawn with performance on a self-face recognition task, several theory of mind stories, and on a measure of schizotypal personality traits. Consistent with the hypothesis, susceptibility to contagiously yawn was positively related to performance on self-face recognition and faux pas theory of mind stories, and negatively related to schizotypal personality traits. These data suggest that contagious yawning may be associated with empathic aspects of mental state attribution and are negatively affected by increases in schizotypal personality traits much like other self-processing related tasks.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Emotions / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Self Concept*
  • Yawning / physiology*