Yawning Equals Love in Relationships

Look over at your spouse or significant other. Give a big yawn. Did they yawn back? Did they take a while to yawn, or did they do it right away?

If they didn't yawn back or took several seconds, they may not love you anymore.

I may be overstating things, but according to a 2011 study by the University of Pisa, yawns are especially contagious when you're with close family members, such as your parents, siblings, or children. When they yawn, you yawn. When you yawn, they yawn.

(And did you yawn because I keep saying "yawn?" I've already yawned four times since I started this column. Also, if you did, it means you really like me.)

According to a story on the Mother News Network website, the researchers also found that yawning is less contagious when you're only with friends, and even less so among strangers. The closer your relationship is, the faster the yawn jumps from sender to receiver.

In other words, the longer it takes your significant other to yawn, the less likely he or she may still be in love with you. If they do it quickly, however, you're still golden, and he or she might even get you some ice cream if you ask nicely.

But, can you use yawning as sort of a love gauge, to tell whether someone was actually into you or not?

Why not? People are insecure and worry about this sort of thing all the time, which means they'll fall prey to unproven scientific theories found only in newspaper humor columns. But I've got real science backing me up.

In his new book, "The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons," science writer Sam Keen asked the question, what if you could tell whether someone was falling in love or out of love with you by measuring their yawn delay?

If the other person really likes you, says Keen, the delay will be shorter; if they like you less, the delay will be longer. And if you could graph out the results over a long period of time, you'd be able to tell whether your life partner still loved you, or was sick of your face.

It's a less sophisticated version of the old Love Tester game found at amusement parks.

It all has to do with empathy and the other person's feelings toward us. People tend to feel empathy toward the people they love, which could be the feelings the yawn tap into. We can even look to the canine world for another example of contagious yawning.

According to a 2012 study at the University of Porto in Portugal, dogs "catch" our yawns because they empathize with us. The researchers chose 29 dogs that had lived with their humans for at least six months, and they played audio recordings of yawns of their owners, a female stranger, and a computer simulation. They found that nearly half the dogs yawned when they heard a recording of a human yawn, but they yawned nearly five times more when it was their own human doing the yawning.

If your dog yawns when you do, it means he loves you. If your wife doesn't, it means you'd better buy her some flowers and take her out to dinner. Either that, or your dog just doesn't realize you're a selfish jerk who'd rather go out drinking with the guys instead of spending time with him.

Other studies have shown that people will yawn when they think about yawning — I'm up to seven so far — when they see attractive strangers do it, or in some cases, when they see pictures or sculptures of people yawning, or when they're about to have sex.

Of course, yawning before you're about to have sex may be why your spouse is no longer in love with you. (However scientists say yawning before sex is actually a good thing, because it's a sign of arousal, not boredom.)

But back to dogs and our significant others: if dogs yawn because they empathize and love us as owners, then this may also explain why our spouses don't yawn when we do — well, your spouse anyway; my wife still loves me. She even yawned when I asked her to read this.

The Mother Nature Network suggested — tongue-in-cheekily — that if you really wanted to see if someone was into you, take a stopwatch and start keeping track of the contagious yawns between you and your sweetie. If the delay grows after time, there's a problem. If it gets shorter, that's a good thing.

Of course, if you're the type of person who needs to measure another person's yawns just to see if they love you or not, you may have a whole other set of problems.

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