Yawning is a the act of taking a deep involuntary breath. There are several theories about why people yawn, but no one knows the exact cause.

Why are yawns contagious?

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We can’t say for sure, but there are several possible explanations. One potential explanation comes from research out of the University of Nottingham, which suggests that contagious yawns are prompted by automatic, primitive reflexes in the part of the brain responsible for motor function. Other researchers think it has something to do with empathy or social cues. "Researchers have seen that yawning may not be as contagious to people with autism or schizophrenia," Meredith Williamson, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, told Vital Record. Individuals with these conditions can struggle with empathy. A 2013 study did find, however, that children with autism experienced contagious yawns as often as non-autistic children when made to focus on the yawner’s face, suggesting social cues, rather than empathy, are at play. "It's multifactorial," Williamson said. "It could be partly an innate form of communication or it could be related to empathy, or a bit of both combined with other factors." Further research would be needed to pin down the exact causes.