Yawning self-portrait Joseph Ducreux

Yawning is a great example of a behaviour that we all engage in involuntarily. While its specific usefulness is unclear, it is common to us all. Its social implications are interesting. When one person starts to yawn, others tend to mimic the behaviour. That makes us think that it is more tied to psychological and sociological factors than physiological ones.

There are many other behaviours we consciously and unconsciously copy from others. Some of these become codified as “manners” and are expected as a sign of social conformity to the values and standards of the group. In some cultures, to eat with the fingers of the left hand is unthinkable. In others, to eat with the fingers of either hand is rude and boorish.

In issues of dress, generations are nearly always characterized by style markers which are faithfully followed by the majority of a given population. Language, physical space, social interactions like hand-shaking and other things are copied as means of demonstrating our solidarity with “the group.”

For Reflection:

  • What are some behaviours you find yourself engaged in that reveal your desire to connect with a given group?
  • Can you think of any potentially harmful behaviours which you or your friends engage in for purely social reasons?