Contagious yawning: Dogs catch human yawns


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"Pet dogs can 'catch' human yawns

By Jennifer Carpenter
Science reporter, 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.

The team - from Birkbeck College, University of London - reports its findings in Biology Letters.

Yawning, although sometimes a response to extreme stress, is more often a sign of tiredness; but the reason for why yawning is catching is not fully understood.

Human cues

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.

The team created two conditions, each five minutes long, in which a person - who was a stranger to the dog - was sat in front of the animal and asked to call its name. Under the first condition, the stranger yawned once the dogs had made eye contact with them.
"We gave dogs everything: visual and auditory stimulus to induce them to yawn," Dr Senju, told BBC News.

Under the second condition, the same procedure was followed, but this time the stranger opened and closed their mouth but did not yawn.
This was a precaution to ensure that dogs were not responding to an open mouth, explained Dr Senju.

Yawning yet?

The team found that 21 out of 29 dogs yawned when the stranger in front of them yawned - on average, dogs yawned 1.9 times. By contrast, no dogs yawned during the non-yawning condition.

The researchers believe that these results are the first evidence that dogs have the capacity to empathise with humans; although the team could not rule out stress-induced yawning - they hope to in future studies.

"Dogs have a very special capacity to read human communication. They respond when we point and when we signal," Dr Senju told BBC News.

The researchers explained that along with floppy ears and big soppy-eyes, humans have selected dogs to be obedient and docile. The results from this study suggest the capacity for empathy towards humans is another trait selected in dogs during domestication.
Dr Senju thinks that these traits would have been useful to humans when they began to live side-by-side with canines approximately 15,000 years ago."

Link + Video:

BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Pet dogs can 'catch' human yawns

Sweet :)
I've actually seen evidence myself that dogs know when humans are tired, through observing when we start to yawn. I first noticed this when driving - you know how you see pensioners' cars and especially builders' pickups, with dogs sitting bolt upright alongside the driver - well, the reason they're doing that is that they are in the process of taking over driving from the human who has started to yawn!

Of course, if you're observant you will see cases where the dog actually is in charge (yet to see that Churchill one though) - you can normally deduce this from the slow but careful driving style and noting that the dog's head is above the steering wheel whereas the human's eyes are just below the top of the dashboard. Note: in the case of builders you should observe the complete recklessness - just typical of builders' dogs which have to double up as security guards.

I am quite convinced that in my part of the UK (sleepy Northants / Leics), dogs are shaping up well. :)
I'd just like to know - how is this research actually advancing man and furthering our scientific progress? Couldn't they have found something more worthwhile to spend their grant money on?