You could be a psychopath if you don’t yawn.

By ANTHONY JOSEPH for MAILONLINE
PUBLISHED: 11:55 EST, 15 August 2015 | UPDATED: 13:38 EST, 15 August 2015


Want to see if someone is a psychopath or not? Try yawning at them. If they yawn back, you’re okay and proceed to befriending them if you wish. If they don’t, perhaps steer clear—they could be distinctly anti-social.

Scientists reveal that people with low empathy levels don’t copy the gestures of others. 

  • Scientists have found that the more psychopathic characteristics people have, the less they are affected by ‘contagious yawning’
  • Researchers from Baylor University tested 135 students for anti-social traits
  • Those who scored highly on ‘cold-heartedness’ were less likely to yawn when shown video clips of facial expressions

Most people will yawn if someone around them yawns. Normal mammals are said to be unable to resist ‘contagious yawning.’

US President Barack Obama yawns during the East Asia Summit plenary session in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2012US President Barack Obama yawns during the East Asia
Summit plenary session in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in 2012

The researchers from Baylor University in Texas published their findings in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Read more: Psychopaths don’t yawn study

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5 thoughts on “You could be a psychopath if you don’t yawn.

  1. I can see a problem with the yawning test. Psychopaths can and do become anything in order to masquerade as neurotypical. They’re
    carmillions. Let’s use Jack as an example. His PCLR score is through the roof. Jack is a psychopath. To win favour he needs to appear ‘normal’, at least initially. He’s a good study and has noticed that neurotypicals yawn when others’ do, even in the absence of being tired. To blend in, to appear normal, Jack only needs to mimic a social yawn. Empathy is redundant, unnecessary, superfluous. Good psychopaths learn social rules and obey them until such a time the cost of doing so outweighs the benefits. Thus, whilst the yawn test might prove effective for screening naive psychopaths, it will fail, I conjecture, on a psychopath, like Jack, who is wise to contagious yawning and its implications.

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    • It is true that psychopaths seem completely “normal,” mimicking socially acceptable behaviors to conceal their difference. However, unless they believe that they are being tested, they would hardly be motivated to fake a contagious yawn. The more psychopathic students in the study apparently didn’t pretend to yawn even though they were fully aware that they were being tested—only not for what.

      No single personality trait, behavior, or other indicator; such as absence of ‘crow’s feet,’ a poor sense of smell, verbal tics, ‘sleep of death,’ or even lack of empathy is sufficient to make conclusions about serious character disturbances.

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      • The ‘only not for what’ is key. Had participants – and lets be fair here, students do not represent a cross section of society in anyway shape or form and for that reason alone, the results of the study lack generality- they would have, I’m sure, put on a good show, an exaggerated display of social yawning. Now’s there an interesting study. Neurotypicals versus Psychopaths, using the same parameters as before, with an additional condition- one under which participants are told that contagious yawning is normal. I bet results would show, as hinted already, that social yawning in psychopaths, or participants scoring high on psychopathy scales, potentiated social yawning- increased social yawning frequency or exaggerated social​ yawning, or both. That study would tell us much more about the nature of psychopaths than the reported one. In short, informing psychopaths that they’re being scrutinized​ would most likely increase the degree to which they exhibited neurotypical behaviours. Care to apply for research funding?

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      • Yes, in comparison, the results of the study you are suggesting might be interesting. Perhaps the non-psychopathic guinea pigs, being more self-conscious, would yawn less if they knew they were being scrutinized, while the psychopaths would yawn more to fake “normalcy?”

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