YAWN!ing May Signal Empathy for Chimpanzees

Posted on by Benjamin Chabot-Hanowell (Brash Equilibrium)
URL for sharing: http://thisorth.at/2c7w
Here's a familiar scenario. You're in the carpool to work, feeling chipper and ready to start the day. Then your buddy sitting in the middle of the backseat lets out a big yawn. Your jaws tense. Your eyes start to water. That obnoxious mother $#%&er. Then, it happens. You open your mouth wide, and inhale loudly. That's when the dominoes start falling. By dominoes, I mean yawns. It looks a lot like this:

Except without the puke.

I'm with you. Yawning contests like this are annoying. They also seem to be a dime a dozen, especially when you're among friends. But that's where you can (maybe) take solace. See, there's a hypothesis that contagious yawning is a sign of empathy. A line of evidence suggests that people feel more empathy toward members of their "in-group" (i.e., people they are more likely to know, who look like them, et cetera). Contagious yawning isn't just a problem for humans, either. The phenomenon has been documented among chimpanzees, macaques, baboons, and dogs.

A recent article in the peer-reviewed science journal PLoS ONE studied contagious yawning among chimpanzees. They had chimps watch videos of yawning chimps, both familiar and unfamiliar. The chimps yawned more in response to familiar chimps than unfamiliar chimps. This supports the idea that, at least among chimps, more empathy is felt for the chimps you know than the chimps you don't know.

The authors of the study point out that no one has yet looked for a biased contagious yawning effect in humans. I bet that would be tougher to do than with chimps. If you showed a bunch of humans a video of somebody yawning, they would catch on rather quickly what it is you were trying to do. If you have to do the test another way, this would make a comparison between chimps and humans less convincing, at least to detractors.

I don't know, what do you think?

Is contagious yawning the product of empathy?

1315 views & 6 votes

Debate It! 1

My mini mares do this too.

Posted By Cobanerd,

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