Last weekend at the writers’ conference I found myself sitting in a very interesting session, stifling the urge to yawn.
Because yawning at someone you enjoy listening to is seriously bad form.
Not only does it make the speaker think they’ve bored you to just this side of tears, but if they’re like a majority of us, it will make them yawn too. (Note: you can create a parallel prompted response by sucking lemons in front of musicians who play wind instruments – when they see you suck a lemon, their mouths dry up and they can’t play.) Unfortunately, I’ve never had great control over the yawn response – and I have it even when I’m not bored. It frustrates me, but I’ll yawn even when I’m captivated by the subject matter – and even when I’m not at all tired. Trying to stop it only makes it worse. The more I think about yawning … the more I yawn.
But this morning, an article at BoingBoing sent me to another article published by the BBC (a leading source for science and research … yeah, I know, bear with me) that suggests social yawning may be a sign of empathy. This morning’s Discovery News article discusses a more recent study that draws the same conclusions. Not only do “social yawners” tend to score higher on tests for empathetic tendencies, but it appears that individuals with autism may not yawn socially in the same way that non-autistic individuals do – which offers further evidence of a link between yawning and empathy.
While the science isn’t conclusive, it sure makes me feel better about that seminar (and a recent lecture, and law school ok, that last one I was just falling asleep). So the next time someone catches you yawning, or you see someone else trying not to, just look them right in the eye and say, “I’m not bored…I’m empathizing.”
And let me know how that works out for you.