Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Contagious Yawning in Chimpanzees

Animation of chimpanzee yawning from Emory University. Illustration from BBC News.

I'm sure we are all familiar with this scenario: Someone yawns and we would "catch" it or vice versa. This is the phenomenon of contagious yawning.

A new paper from The Proceedings of The Royal Society "Computer animations stimulate contagious yawning in chimpanzees" suggests that the phenomenon of contagious yawning and empathic response to animation occurs in chimpanzees. Computer animations of yawning chimpanzees (see illustration above) can be use to stimulate contagious yawning in chimpanzees. Previous researches have documented contagious yawning in chimpanzees through video-recorded footage.

Dr. Matthew Campbell, lead author of the paper from Emory University's Yerkes National Primate Research Center said that they would also like to learn more about behaviors that are related to empathy such as consolation (when an individual does something nice to the victim of aggression). They want to know if individuals that are good contagious yawners are also good consolers. Understanding how chimpanzees empathize and imitate animations can help us understand how we, as human beings, empathize and imitate animations as well, said Dr. Campbell.

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