Ever wonder why yawns are contagious? Humans can catch yawns from other people, and so do a few other species. Discover Magazine reports on new research saying empathy is behind it all. "Chimpanzees, like people, can 'catch' yawns from others. But not all yawns are created equal, it seems; chimps are more likely to catch yawns from a chimp they know than from a stranger, a new study found."
"The idea is that yawns are contagious for the same reason that smiles, frowns and other facial expressions are contagious," they said. "Our results support the idea that contagious yawning can be used as a measure of empathy, because the biases we observed were similar to empathy biases previously seen in humans."
Chimpanzees, like people, can “catch” yawns from others. But not all yawns are created equal, it seems; chimps are more likely to catch yawns from a chimp they know than from a stranger, a new study found. (You can see a video of it here.) This supports the idea that it’s empathy—rather than just everybody needing a nap—that makes yawns contagious.
Six adult female chimpanzees were shown video scenes of chimpanzees repeatedly yawning or of chimpanzees showing open-mouth facial expressions that were not yawns. Two out of the six females showed significantly higher frequencies of yawning in response to yawn videos; no chimpanzees showed the inverse.
Contagious yawning is not just a marker of sleepiness or boredom. For chimpanzees, it may actually be a sign of a social connection between individuals... "The idea is that yawns are contagious for the same reason that smiles, frowns and other facial expressions are contagious," they write. "Our results support the idea that contagious yawning can be used as a measure of empathy, because the biases we observed were similar to empathy biases previously seen in humans."
Dr Matthew Campbell and Dr Frans de Waal showed the footage to 23 adult chimpanzees, which had been raised in two separate groups. Each animal viewed several nine-second video clips of other chimpanzees either yawning or doing something else. They yawned 50% more frequently in response to seeing members of their group yawn compared with seeing others yawn. The findings suggest that contagious yawning is a good empirical measure of empathy.
We've often come across these stories, as well as analysis of the similarities between animals and humans when it comes to empathy and reciprocity (especially in evolutionary terms, and especially in dealing with primates), but I personally never get tired of reading them.
A recent study published in the journal Biology Letters found dogs yawn when humans do, suggesting that canines may have the capacity for empathy. In their experiment, researchers from the University of London yawned at 29 dogs. Seventy-two percent yawned back—a higher frequency than humans, who typically yawn back 45 to 60 percent of the time.
Research around the world demonstrates the tremendous benefits of owning a pet. Studies show that children who own pets have more empathy and nurturing ability, and as they grow into adulthood, essential skills to develop meaningful relationships.
The article also discusses how people come to have empathy, and it turns out it is a combination of our experiences, what we see, and what we are taught, among other things. It is important to teach empathy to our children. There are ways we can go about doing this. Here are several I came up with:
How children treat animals is usually how they treat other people. Teach your child to have empathy and respect for all living things. Empathy and respect are taught life skills. How you treat animals is usually how you treat other living things.
If you have just had a big falling out with a colleague, there is nothing better than the comforting and consoling arm of a good friend.
If these chimpanzees are actually motivated by empathy to console victims of aggression, they must first of all be able to recognize that the victim is distressed and then they must know what to do in order to act appropriately to respond to this distress," said Dr Fraser.
Pioneer in primate studies, Frans de Waal sees our better side in chimps, especially our capacity for empathy. In his research, Dr. de Waal has gathered ample evidence that our ability to identify with another's distress -- a catalyst for compassion and charity -- has deep roots in the origin of our species. It is a view independently reinforced by recent biomedical studies showing that our brains are built to feel another's pain.
Though still a mystery, most people yawn reflexively when someone else does. One scientist studying chimps says catching a yawn is related to empathy. It's a human sentiment Columbia University's Kevin Ochsner says we're hard-wired to feel.
We tend to think of empathy as a uniquely human trait. But it’s something apes and other animals demonstrate as well, says primatologist Frans de Waal. He shows how our evolutionary history suggests a deep-rooted propensity for feeling the emotions of others.
Empathy is second nature to us, so much so that anyone devoid of it strikes us as dangerous or mentally ill.
You know that old phrase, "monkey see, monkey do"? Well, there might be something to it, except that chimpanzees aren't monkeys. (Sadly, "ape see, ape do" just doesn't have the same ring to it.) A new paper published today in PLoS ONE has found evidence that chimpanzees have contagious yawning - that is, they can "catch" yawns from watching other chimpanzees yawning - but (and here's the interesting part) only when the chimp that they're watching is a friend.
A study done at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center by Campbell and de Waal (2011) has found a link between social groups and empathy in chimpanzees as demonstrated by involuntary yawning responses.
The study is based on the psychological concept of ingroups and outgroups. In humans ingroups are those we see as similar to ourselves and outgroups are those we perceive as different.
Biases involved in ingroup-outgroup discrimination in know to even extend to involuntary responses which includes empathy for pain. This has never been tested in other animals though.
Most people reading this blog will have heard of the “selfish gene”—the idea, formally defined by W.D. Hamilton and popularized by Richard Dawkins, that what matters from the perspective of evolution is not organisms, but genes. Those genes that maximize their chances of survival—regardless of what happens to individuals—will be the ones that come to predominate.
So far, contagious yawning has been observed in five mammals: humans, chimpanzees, stumptail macaques, gelada baboons, and domesticated dogs, though the interpretation of the data has been inconsistent. There is still no consensus on the function of contagious yawning, or even whether it exists in the first place.
But now, Matthew W. Campbell and Frans de Waal of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Emory University have proposed a more nuanced view of contagious yawning. They wondered if social group membership could affect the transmission of a contagious yawn. After all, if empathy is indeed the thing underlying contagious yawning, then contagious yawning should show many of the same behavioral signatures that empathy itself does.
Decades of evidence show that a child's attitude toward animals can predict future behavior. According to published reports, in every highly publicized school shooting, one warning sign appeared consistently: All the young killers abused or killed animals before turning on their classmates.
Developing compassion and empathy in all people is critically important, and something we need sorely. In our present world riddled with sarcasm, greed, hate, deceit, a sense of entitlement and self-centeredness, compassion and empathy are things that seem to be slipping away.
A recent study concludes domestic chickens display signs of empathy — the act of understanding and entering into another’s feelings.
These findings are particularly significant in view of the deeply criminal treatment animals receive on factory farms daily, which has been exposed in numerous published accounts and films like Farm to Fridge, narrated by actor James Cromwell.
The study was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council’s Animal Welfare Initiative, whose findings were released this month in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
In today's world where there is much suffering and fear, I think empathy is in short supply. What exactly is empathy? Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary offers this definition: “... the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner ...”