Next time you’re in a meeting, try this little experiment: Take a big yawn, cover your mouth out of courtesy and watch to see how many people follow suit. There’s a good chance you’ll set off a chain reaction of deep breaths and wide-open mouths. And before you finish reading this article, it’s likely you’ll yawn at least once. Don’t misunderstand, we aren’t intending to bore you, but just reading about yawning will make you do it, just as seeing or hearing someone else yawn makes us do it, too.
So what’s behind this mysterious epidemic of yawning? First, let’s look at what this bodily motion is: Yawning is an involuntary action that causes us to open our mouths wide and breathe in deeply. We know it’s involuntary because we do it even before we’re born: According to Robert Provine, a developmental neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, research has shown that 11-week-old fetuses yawn.