When everybody yawns, psychopaths don’t

So you’re out with friends, or worse, at a business meeting, when you see someone yawn. Soon, you’re yawning too.

Why does this happen? Researchers believe that yawning is contagious because it is linked to empathy, and most humans have lots of empathy.

This behavior is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history. Many mammals yawn. And yawning by one member of a group often begets yawning by another member of the group. This happens among people and also among dogs and chimpanzees.

But it doesn’t happen among psychopaths.

Research on yawning

Brian K. Rundle and colleagues at Baylor University in Texas recently published a paper entitled, Contagious yawning and psychopathy. The bottom line: People who were high in psychopathic traits were less likely to yawn in response to yawns by others.

A total of 135 students participated in the research. They completed the Psychopathic Personality Inventory (PPI), which produces scores for fearless dominance, self-centered impulsivity, and coldheartedness.

The students were asked to sit in a comfortable chair in front of a computer. Researchers attached electrodes to their faces to measure physiological responses, and the students wore noise-cancelling headphones.

Then they watched a video that included people yawning. The researchers observed who yawned in response, and how often.

Study results

The researchers expected to find a connection between psychopathic traits and a decreased susceptibility to contagiously yawn. They did.

According to the study results, students who scored high on the coldheartedness factor of the PPI yawned less frequently than the other students.

“Our results, then, fit well into the evolutionary model that contagious yawning in our species is a function of empathy, as we have shown that those who are characteristically lacking in empathy are less susceptible to a contagious yawn when prompted in a paradigm known to induced contagious yawning in normal individuals,” Rundle and colleagues wrote.

What do you think? Did you ever notice that the sociopath you know didn’t yawn when others did?

Contagious yawning and psychopathy







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22 Comments on "When everybody yawns, psychopaths don’t"

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oops. Forgot to list the name of the term:
Learned Helplessness. Where my mother taught me that no matter how hard I’d try or how good a job I did, I was always the loser. It’s the same quality of life I found when married to my husband, that NOTHING I did was ever enough to keep me from being the loser, the one whom it was okay to do anything to, and he liked to encourage others to abuse me, tell me off, shun me. It was entertainment to him to watch that being done to me.

Yeah, learned helplessness. I too had parents who didn’t seem to like me. The parents allowed me to be bullied by my 6 siblings. I am the youngest.

I got to the point where I know I don’t need a man. But, wish my personality didn’t offend girlfriends, cause I would like to have more of those. I come off as so damaged that I scare people away.

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