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A Neural Basis for Contagious Yawning

Brown, Beverley J.; Kim, Soyoung; Saunders, Hannah; Bachmann, Clarissa; Thompson, Jessica; Ropar, Danielle; Jackson, Stephen R.; Jackson, Georgina M.

Authors

Beverley J. Brown

Soyoung Kim

Hannah Saunders

Clarissa Bachmann

Jessica Thompson

Danielle Ropar

Stephen R. Jackson

Georgina M. Jackson



Abstract

Contagious yawning, in which yawning is triggered involuntarily when we observe another person yawn, is a common form of echophenomena—the automatic imitation of another’s words (echolalia) or actions (echopraxia) [1]. The neural basis for echophenomena is unknown; however, it has been proposed that it is linked to disinhibition of the human mirror-neuron system [1–4 ] and hyper-excitability of cortical motor areas [ 1 ]. We investigated the neural basis for contagious yawning using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Thirty-six adults viewed video clips that showed another individual yawning and, in separate blocks, were instructed to either resist yawning or allow themselves to yawn. Participants were videoed throughout and their yawns or stifled yawns were counted. We used TMS to quantify motor cortical excitability and physiological inhibition for each participant, and these measures were then used to predict the propensity for contagious yawning across participants. We demonstrate that instructions to resist yawning increase the urge to yawn and alter how yawns are expressed (i.e., full versus stifled yawns) but do not alter the individual propensity for contagious yawning. By contrast, TMS measures of cortical excitability and physiological inhibition were significant predictors of contagious yawning and accounted for approximately 50% of the variability in contagious yawning. These data demonstrate that individual variability in the propensity for contagious yawning is determined by cortical excitability and physiological inhibition in the primary motor cortex.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Sep 11, 2017
Journal Current Biology
Print ISSN 0960-9822
Electronic ISSN 1879-0445
Publisher Elsevier (Cell Press)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 27
Issue 17
Pages 2713-2717.e2
APA6 Citation Brown, B. J., Kim, S., Saunders, H., Bachmann, C., Thompson, J., Ropar, D., …Jackson, G. M. (2017). A Neural Basis for Contagious Yawning. Current Biology, 27(17), 2713-2717.e2. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2017.07.062
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2017.07.062
Keywords Contagious yawning; Echophenomena; Transcranial magnetic stimulation [TMS]; Tourette syndrome; Motor cortex
Publisher URL http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982217309661
Copyright Statement Copyright information regarding this work can be found at the following address: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0
Additional Information This article is maintained by: Elsevier; Article Title: A Neural Basis for Contagious Yawning; Journal Title: Current Biology; CrossRef DOI link to publisher maintained version: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2017.07.062; Content Type: article; Copyright: © 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd.

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