Contagious Yawning Prank: Roman Atwood Yawns With Strangers From Paris To Stonehenge; Why Is Yawning Contagious? [VIDEO]
YouTube prankster Roman Atwood uploaded a video yesterday called The World's Most Contagious Prank, in which Atwood travels the globe trying to get people to subconsciously yawn.
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In this latest and most ambitious yawning prank, Atwood can be seen in various locations worldwide as he walks by people while yawning. Then they yawn. And it's funny.
"By far the most difficult and time consuming videos I have ever done," Atwood says of the yawning prank on his YouTube page. "Sometimes it took multiple days just to get one good Yawn."
Try watching the video below without yawning yourself. It's virtually impossible. As Atwood claims at the end of the video, just reading the onscreen title card that says, "Did you yawn?" will make 30 percent of viewers yawn.
So why is yawning contagious? Scientists aren't exactly sure, but the prevailing theory is contagious yawning has to do with social bonding.
A 2010 University of Connecticut study suggests that yawning is a sign of empathy and social bonding. Kids around the age of four start yawning when others yawn, the study found; kids with autism were half as likely to yawn as non-autistic children.
"Emotional contagion seems to be a primal instinct that binds us together," said Molly Helt, a graduate student in clinical psychology at the University of Connecticut. "Yawning may be part of that."
Helt was inspired to do the study after riding on an airplane with her autistic son. She repeatedly yawned at her son to get him to clear his ears, but he never yawned back.
"The fact that autistic kids don't do it might mean they're really missing out on that unconscious emotional linkage to those around them," Helt said.
In the study, Helt read a story to 120 healthy kids from the ages of one through six. Each group was made up of 20 kids, all the same age. During the story reading, Helt yawned every 90 seconds. A camera recording the children found that none of the one-year-olds yawned when Helt did, and only a few kids in the other age groups yawned.
But once Helt got to the group of four-year-olds, 9 of the 20 kids yawned after Helt did. That level of contagious yawning was repeated in the older groups, and it also matches other studies that show that grown-ups yawn between 40-60 percent of the time when others yawn.
Helt repeated the story reading with groups of autistic children, where the rates of contagious yawning were about half that of non-autistic children.
Fascinatingly, the social bonding aspect of contagious yawning may even spread to animals.
Last year, a study by Lund University in Sweden found that dogs catch human yawns too, as an act of empathy. Researchers tested 35 dogs from the ages of four months to 14 months and found that dogs over the age of seven months yawned while playing and cuddling with humans. So like humans, dogs seem to have to grow into contagious yawning.
As for why people yawn in the first place, scientists don't really know. The most plausible explanation is that our bodies require more oxygen at the moment, so we breathe deep. But then why do fetuses in the womb yawn?
In the absence of concrete scientific explanations, perhaps it's best to just watch the video below and laugh. Laughter is also contagious.
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