Dogs Catch Yawns Too

August 6, 2008 at 3:12 am 3 comments

This just in from BBC News:

Yawning is known to be contagious in humans but now scientists have shown that pet dogs can catch a yawn, too.

The copying activity suggests that canines are capable of empathising with people, say the researchers who recorded dogs’ behaviour in lab tests.

Until now, only humans and their close primate relatives were thought to find yawning contagious.

Yawning is typically a response to fatigue or sleepiness, though it can also represent a displacement response to stress.  The reason yawning is contagious is not fully understood.

There is evidence that autistic individuals are less inclined to yawn into response to another human yawning, suggesting that contagious yawning betrays an ability to empathise, explained Birbeck’s Dr Atsushi Senju.

Dr Senju and his team wondered whether dogs – that are very skilled at reading human social cues – could read the human yawn signal, and set out to test the yawning capabilities of 29 canines.

Science News reports that:

Senju says that it isn’t clear from this experiment just why the yawns spread. The dogs’ yawning could reflect canine empathy with a human condition. Or the dogs may have learned to yawn along with people based on positive feedback during previous experiences. Or a human yawn might trigger a dog yawn because the gesture comes across as somewhat aggressive to a dog; macaques, for example, yawn in tense situations.

“It would be very interesting to see if contagious yawning occurs between dogs,” Gallup says.

And there’s another possible direction for the contagion. “Although there are no studies about it, I think it’s quite likely that dogs’ yawns induce yawning in humans,” Senju says.

Hmmm – do dog yawns induce human yawns?  Test your response here!

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Entry filed under: behavior science, dogs, science. Tags: .

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