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Wondering why we're pawns to yawns.

Wondering why we're pawns to yawns

Everyone knows that yawns are contagious. But nobody knows what part of a yawn makes it contagious. Robert R. Provine of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in Catonsville sought to find out.

On 120 people, Provine tested the yawn-evoking potential of a 5-minute videotape made of 30 repetitions of a 10-second yawn. In some versions, though, he used an image-fading technology to "erase" various parts of the yawning face. In some cases the eyes were missing, in others the mouth was gone; in one version everything was missing except the eyebrows; in another the mouth alone was visible.

"I expected the mouth alone to be almost as effective as the whole face," Provine says. "But surprisingly, the mouth seems to be not an important component." In fact, he says, "What's been becoming clear is that virtually anything having to do with a yawn can trigger yawning."

Provine says his research "is an unlikely approach to some deep questions about how we recognize complex patterns," adding that it may ultimately be useful for designing neural models of pattern recognition.
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Author:Weiss, Rick
Publication:Science News
Date:Dec 3, 1988
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