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Do we sneeze when someone thinks about you?

Have you ever felt like you needed to sneeze right at the moment when you suspected someone was thinking about you? This phenomenon has puzzled many people over the years and has even led to the common belief that sudden sneezing is a sign that someone is thinking about you. But is there any scientific evidence to back up this idea?

The Origins of the Superstition

The belief that sneezing is linked to someone else’s thoughts about you has been around for centuries. Some of the earliest references date back to Ancient Greece and Rome. Greek philosopher Aristotle mentioned the idea in his writings, as did Roman authors Pliny the Elder and Apuleius. It was also discussed in Medieval times, being referred to in works by Thomas Aquinas.

This superstition has persisted into modern times and can be found in numerous cultures worldwide. In parts of Latin America, there is a common saying “están hablando de ti” meaning “they are talking about you” when someone sneezes unexpectedly. German and Slavic folklore also connect sneezing to someone else’s thoughts.

Various folklore and superstitions give different interpretations as to what it means when you sneeze as a result of someone thinking about you. Some view it as a sign of praise while others see it as a warning that someone may be speaking ill of you behind your back. Either way, it is seen as a manifestation of the deep interconnectivity between people.

Is There Any Scientific Explanation?

When examining this belief from a scientific lens, there are a few possible ways to explain how someone thinking about you could cause you to sneeze.

Psychosomatic response

One potential explanation is that it is a psychosomatic response. This means that the power of the mind triggers an involuntary physical reaction. If you firmly believe that someone thinking about you will make you sneeze, you may subconsciously sneeze when you have the sense that someone is thinking about you.

This phenomenon is similar to how placebos can cause physical effects based on a person’s expectations. So if your mind expects sneezing when someone thinks about you, this belief could manifest as an actual sneeze.

Coincidence or selective memory

Another plausible reason behind this superstition is simple coincidence or selective memory. Sneezes tend to happen spontaneously without any obvious external trigger. You may sneeze multiple times per day at random moments.

If by chance you happen to sneeze while thinking about someone, you are more likely to make a mental connection and remember that instance compared to the many other times you sneeze randomly. Over time, these coincidental sneezes that align with thoughts about others may strengthen the false belief.

Essentially, when something fits our narrative or expectations, we are more inclined to take note and recall it vividly. Our brains tend to filter out things that do not match our beliefs.

Stress or anxiety

Feelings of stress and anxiety can sometimes induce sneezing. If you anticipate that someone distant is thinking about you, it may elicit mild stress or excitement. This reaction could involuntarily stimulate sneezing.

So in some cases, sneezing when thinking about others may stem from fleeting stress responses rather than any supernatural phenomenon.

Scientific Research

There have been a handful of scientific attempts to study whether thinking about someone can really make them sneeze.

In the 1920s, German psychologist Wilhelm Stern conducted an experiment where participants had to suddenly think about a loved one at a predefined time. Out of the 27 subjects, 4 sneezed shortly after the designated moment. Stern theorized this was evidence of thought transference triggering a physical reaction.

However, subsequent attempts to replicate this experiment over the next decades found no correlation between thinking about someone and their sneezing. In the 1950s, English scientist Rupert Sheldrake carried out extensive sneezing research on over 4,000 subjects. The data showed no evidence that focused thoughts could induce sneezing.

Overall, controlled scientific testing has not been able to demonstrate definitive proof of this superstition. There does not seem to be a consistent causal relationship between thinking about someone and their sneezing.

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, the idea that people sneeze when someone is thinking about them is a widespread superstition but lacks scientific basis. There are some hypothetical physiological and psychological explanations for why this belief may exist, but controlled testing has not found clear evidence to confirm the superstition.

Sneezing is primarily an involuntary bodily function that can occur due to irritation or changes in the environment. Any linkage between sneezes and thoughts is likely coincidental, stemming from selective memory or psychosomatic factors influenced by expectations. So while it can be a fun idea to entertain, there is no need to worry that your random sneezes secretly expose who is thinking about you!