Yawning is something researchers, like neuroscientist and author Robert Provine, call contagious behavior — even if they don’t fully understand why it’s contagious. But they do know that yawning is something that most vertebrates (that is, animals with backbones) do, and that humans start yawning very early in life.
So even though we associate yawns with disinterest or tiredness, that’s not always true. “We sometimes yawn when anxious, as do athletes before their big event, paratroopers making their first jump, or violinists waiting to go on stage to play a concerto,” Provine said in an email to Science of Us.
Yawning is so contagious that it’s not only triggered by seeing someone yawn. Thinking about yawning or reading about yawning — as you’re doing now — is enough to do it.
Did you make it? Probably not. But Provine has some science-y ways to stifle a yawn in case the urge strikes in an awkward situation: Clench your teeth, hold your eyes open with your fingers, or seal your lips and try to inhale through your nose. Useful!