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Contagious Yawns

March 5, 2012

Both humans and chimpanzees can’t resist the urge to yawn when others do.



Contagious yawning…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Have you ever wondered why you feel like yawning when you see a friend doing it? According to primatologist Frans de Waal ofEmoryUniversity, this may actually be a sign of empathy. He says studies have shown that more empathetic people are also more prone to yawn contagiously. What’s more, there’s now evidence that yawning may relate to empathy in chimpanzees as well. He and Michael Campbell recently showed chimpanzees videos of other chimps yawning. They were much more likely to yawn too if the chimp in the video was part of their own group rather than another group. De Waal explains.

FRANS DE WAAL (EmoryUniversity):

Empathy is very in-group biased. It’s really an in-group phenomenon.


De Waal says both chimps and humans are more likely to feel empathy for friends than strangers. What’s more, people who are less empathetic, due to autism for example, may not mimic yawning at all. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.