Have you ever noticed yourself yawning when someone else yawns?  I noticed my dog mirror my yawn today. Curiously, dogs are quite savvy with it … they respond more frequently to genuine yawns than fake ones.

We mirror a lot more than just yawning, sometimes without realizing we’re doing it.  If we see someone burn themselves on a hot pan, we flinch and pull back. If we see two people accidentally crash into each other in a football game, we wince. Mirror neurons in the brain fire when we see someone doing something in much the same way as they would if we were doing it ourselves. The reaction is remarkably fast – the amygdala region of the brain reads an emotion in someone else’s face within 33 milliseconds, so if someone genuinely smiles at you, chances are you will almost instantly smile back.

Our mood and behaviors are contagious whether we like it or not.  If you’ve ever been in a room with others when someone in a bad mood enters, you might have felt the ambiance in the room go a little sour. Conversely, if your boss is in a good mood, you might have felt the spirits of your team improve.

So next time you’re with others, be aware of your mood and behaviors. Watch for the effect of those mirror neurons. Smile genuinely and notice people smile back, and if you have a dog and catch him yawning – did you just yawn too?