Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Chimpanzees' contagious yawning evidence of empathy, not just sleepiness, study shows

Date:
April 7, 2011
Source:
Emory University
Summary:
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.

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.
Credit: iStockphoto/Jose Gil

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.

New research at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Emory University, may help scientists understand empathy, the mechanism thought to underlie contagious yawning, in both chimpanzees and humans. The research also may help show how social biases strengthen or weaken empathy.

Scientists at Yerkes discovered chimpanzees yawn more after watching familiar chimpanzees yawn than after watching strangers yawn. The Public Library of Science One (PLoS ONE) is publishing the study online on April 6, 2011.

Yerkes researchers Matthew Campbell, PhD, and Frans de Waal, PhD, propose that when yawning spreads between chimpanzees, it reflects an underlying empathy between them.

"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."

Campbell is a FIRST postdoctoral fellow at Yerkes and Emory (Fellowship in Research and Science Teaching). De Waal is director of the Living Links Center at Yerkes and C.H. Candler Professor of Psychology at Emory.

They studied 23 adult chimpanzees that were housed in two separate groups. The chimpanzees viewed several nine-second video clips of other chimpanzees, in both groups, either yawning or doing something else. They yawned 50 percent more frequently in response to seeing members of their group yawn compared to seeing others yawn.

In humans, scientists have identified certain parts of the brain that are activated both when someone experiences pain and when they see someone else experiencing pain. In these experiments, people tend to show more sensitivity for members of the same social group.

The results raise the question of whether contagious yawning among humans shows the same biases: favoring members of the same social group over different social groups.

The authors note one complication: chimpanzees live in small communities where unfamiliar individuals are by definition seen as members of a separate social group. In contrast, humans do not necessarily see strangers as belonging to an "outgroup." For this reason, the in-group/out-group distinction may be more absolute in chimpanzees than in humans. Chimpanzees in the wild are known to be extremely hostile to external groups, which probably adds to the effects found in this study.

The authors say that contagious yawning could be a window into social and emotional connections between individuals, and suggest that insight into barriers to chimpanzee empathy may help break down those barriers for humans.

"Empathy is difficult to measure directly because it is a largely internal response: mimicking the emotional response of another. Contagious yawning allows for a measurement of empathic response that is purely behavioral, and thus can be applied more widely," Campbell writes. "Anyone who wants to increase human empathy towards outsiders should consider that techniques to this effect could be tested out on chimpanzees and other animals."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Emory University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Matthew W. Campbell, Frans B. M. de Waal. Ingroup-Outgroup Bias in Contagious Yawning by Chimpanzees Supports Link to Empathy. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (4): e18283 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0018283

Cite This Page:

Emory University. "Chimpanzees' contagious yawning evidence of empathy, not just sleepiness, study shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 April 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110406192511.htm>.
Emory University. (2011, April 7). Chimpanzees' contagious yawning evidence of empathy, not just sleepiness, study shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110406192511.htm
Emory University. "Chimpanzees' contagious yawning evidence of empathy, not just sleepiness, study shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/04/110406192511.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

AP (July 22, 2014) An 80-year-old agave plant, which is blooming for the first and only time at a University of Michigan conservatory, will die when it's done (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
San Diego Zoo Welcomes New, Rare Rhino Calf

San Diego Zoo Welcomes New, Rare Rhino Calf

Reuters - US Online Video (July 21, 2014) An endangered black rhino baby is the newest resident at the San Diego Zoo. Sasha Salama reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

Shark Sightings a Big Catch for Cape Tourism

AP (July 21, 2014) A rise in shark sightings along the shores of Chatham, Massachusetts is driving a surge of eager vacationers to the beach town looking to catch a glimpse of a great white. (July 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

$23.6 Billion Awarded To Widow In Smoking Lawsuit

Newsy (July 20, 2014) Cynthia Robinson claims R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company hid the health and addiction risks of its products, leading to the death of her husband in 1996. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins