Contagious yawning not a sign of empathy in dogs

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Ever fought the urge to yawn when someone near you has yawned first? Dogs will do the same thing, and now University of Auckland scientists have re-analysed data from previous experiments to find that a dog's tendency to yawn wasn't affected by whether the person was familiar or unfamiliar, friendly or unfriendly (not offering pats or treats), or whether the dog was male or female. This led the researchers to conclude that contagious yawning and empathy do not share cognitive mechanisms.

Journal/conference: Proceedings of the Royal Society B

DOI: 0.1098/rspb.2019.2236

Organisation/s: University of Auckland

Funder: Researcher Alex Taylor was supported in this work by a Rutherford DiscoveryFellowship and a Prime Minister’s McDiarmid Emerging ScientistPrize from the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Media Release

From: The Royal Society

In this study, we re-analysed data from six previous experiments to show that dogs contagiously yawn: seeing somebody else yawn makes it more likely that a dog will yawn. However, we also showed that dogs are not more likely to yawn when a familiar person yawns than an unfamiliar person and that male and female dogs were equally likely to contagiously yawn. We also ran a novel experiment showing that dogs are not more likely to when a friendly person yawns compared to a unfriendly person. These results suggest that contagious yawning and empathy do not share cognitive mechanisms.

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