Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Is empathy in humans and apes actually different? 'Yawn contagion' effect studied

Date:
August 12, 2014
Source:
PeerJ
Summary:
Whether or not humans are the only empathic beings is still under debate. In a new study, researchers directly compared the 'yawn contagion' effect between humans and bonobos -- our closest evolutionary cousins. By doing so they were able to directly compare the empathic abilities of ourselves with another species, and found that a close relationship between individuals is more important to their empathic response than the fact that individuals might be from the same species.

Scientists have found that differences in levels of emotional contagion between humans and bonobos are attributable to the quality of relationships shared by individuals.
Credit: Elisa Demuru

Whether or not humans are the only empathic beings is still under debate. In a new study, researchers directly compared the 'yawn contagion' effect between humans and bonobos (our closest evolutionary cousins). By doing so they were able to directly compare the empathic abilities of ourselves with another species, and found that a close relationship between individuals is more important to their empathic response than the fact that individuals might be from the same species.

Related Articles


The ability to experience others' emotions is hard to quantify in any species, and, as a result, it is difficult to measure empathy in an objective way. The transmission of a feeling from one individual to another, something known as 'emotional contagion,' is the most basic form of empathy. Feelings are disclosed by facial expressions (for example sorrow, pain, happiness or tiredness), and these feelings can travel from an "emitting face" to a "receiving face." Upon receipt, the mirroring of facial expressions evokes in the receiver an emotion similar to the emotion experienced by the sender.

Yawn contagion is one of the most pervasive and apparently trivial forms of emotional contagion. Who hasn't been infected at least once by another person's yawn (especially over dinner)? Humans and bonobos are the only two species in which it has been demonstrated that yawn contagion follows an empathic trend, being more frequent between individuals who share a strong emotional bond, such as friends, kin, and mates. Because of this similarity, researchers sought to directly compare the two species. Over the course of five years, they observed both humans and bonobos during their everyday activities and gathered data on yawn contagion by applying the same ethological approach and operational definitions. The results of their research are published today in the peer-reviewed journal PeerJ.

Two features of yawn contagion were compared: how many times the individuals responded to others' yawns and how quickly. Intriguingly, when the yawner and the responder were not friends or kin, bonobos responded to others' yawns just as frequently and promptly as humans did. This means that the assumption that emotional contagion is more prominent in humans than in other species is not necessarily the case.

However, humans did respond more frequently and more promptly than bonobos when friends and kin were involved, probably because strong relationships between humans are built upon complex and sophisticated emotional foundations linked to cognition, memory, and memories. In this case, the positive feedback linking emotional affinity and the mirroring process seems to spin faster in humans than in bonobos. In humans, such over-activation may explain the potentiated yawning response and also other kinds of unconscious mimicry response, such as happy, pained, or angry facial expressions.

In conclusion, this study suggests that differences in levels of emotional contagion between humans and bonobos are attributable to the quality of relationships shared by individuals. When the complexity of social bonds, typical of humans, is not in play, Homo sapiens climb down the tree of empathy to go back to the understory which we share with our ape cousins.


Story Source:

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


Journal Reference:

  1. Elisabetta Palagi, Ivan Norscia, Elisa Demuru. Yawn contagion in humans and bonobos: emotional affinity matters more than species. PeerJ, 2014; 2: e519 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.519

Cite This Page:

PeerJ. "Is empathy in humans and apes actually different? 'Yawn contagion' effect studied." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140812122220.htm>.
PeerJ. (2014, August 12). Is empathy in humans and apes actually different? 'Yawn contagion' effect studied. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140812122220.htm
PeerJ. "Is empathy in humans and apes actually different? 'Yawn contagion' effect studied." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140812122220.htm (accessed November 21, 2014).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Mind & Brain News

Friday, November 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Milestone Birthdays Can Bring Existential Crisis, Study Says

Newsy (Nov. 21, 2014) Researchers find that as people approach new decades in their lives they make bigger life decisions. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Your Complicated Job Might Keep Your Brain Young

Newsy (Nov. 20, 2014) Researchers at the University of Edinburgh found the more complex your job is, the sharper your cognitive skills will likely be as you age. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
100-Year-Old Woman Sees Ocean for First Time

100-Year-Old Woman Sees Ocean for First Time

AP (Nov. 20, 2014) Ruby Holt spent most of her 100 years on a farm in rural Tennessee, picking cotton and raising four children. She saw the ocean for the first time thanks to her assisted living center and a group that grants wishes to the elderly. (Nov. 20) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Kids React to Lammily, The Realistic Barbie Alternative

Kids React to Lammily, The Realistic Barbie Alternative

Buzz60 (Nov. 19, 2014) Artist Nickolay Lamm's Kickstarter-funded Lammily doll, based on his 'What Would Barbie Look Like as a Real Woman' project, is finally available to buy. Jen Markham explains how the doll's realistic proportions are going over with a test group of second-graders who are used to the impossible measurements of Barbie dolls. Video provided by Buzz60
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:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Health & Medicine

Mind & Brain

Living & Well

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