Senior Honors Projects, 2020-current

Contagious yawning in children: Increased susceptibility to peer models

Alyssa Williamson


Contagious yawning is a form of mimicry and emotional contagion that occurs in approximately 40-60% of the adult population. While researchers have linked contagious yawning to empathy and social relationships in adults, the research on children and contagious yawning is more limited. Children do not exhibit contagious yawns until around five to six years of age, which is in short succession of their development of cognitive components of empathy; therefore, we expected to find a positive relationship between cognitive empathy and contagious yawning. We did not find this relationship, possibly due to difficulty eliciting contagious yawning and measuring empathy, suppression of yawns in response to social norms, or some confounding variable between contagious yawning and cognitive empathy. The literature also indicates that contagious yawning may be related to spontaneous attention to the face, and based on the existence of the own-age bias, we expected more participants to yawn to peers than to models of other ages. We found support for our hypothesis based on the finding that participants yawned to child models more than expected. In this study, we hoped to learn more about the development of contagious yawning in children, and the implications it may have for other forms of mimicry or emotional contagion.

Keywords: mimicry, emotional contagion, contagious yawning, cognitive empathy, own-age bias