Yawning detection sensitivity and yawning contagion

Meingold H.M. Chan, Chia Huei Tseng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Contagious yawning—the urge to yawn when thinking about, listening to, or viewing yawning—is a well-documented phenomenon in humans and animals. The reduced yawn contagion observed in the autistic population suggested that it might be empathy related; however, it is unknown whether such a connection applies to nonclinical populations. We examined influences from both empathy (i.e., autistic traits) and nonempathy factors (i.e., individuals’ perceptual detection sensitivity to yawning, happy, and angry faces) on 41 nonclinical adults. We induced contagious yawning with a 5-minute video and 20 yawning photo stimuli. In addition, we measured participants’ autistic traits (with the autism-spectrum quotient questionnaire), eye gaze patterns, and their perceptual thresholds to detect yawning and emotion in human face photos. We found two factors associated with yawning contagion: (a) those more sensitive to detect yawning, but not other emotional expressions, displayed more contagious yawning than those less sensitive to yawning expressions, and (b) female participants exhibited significantly more contagious yawning than male participants. We did not find an association between autistic trait and contagious yawning. Our study offers a working hypothesis for future studies, in that perceptual encoding of yawning interacts with susceptibility to contagious yawning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Jul 1


  • Autistic trait
  • Contagious yawning
  • Emotion
  • Eye gazing
  • Face perception
  • Individual difference
  • Perceptual sensitivity


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