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60-Second Mind

Yawns Are Contagious When You're with Friends

Research with chimpanzees finds that chimps yawn more around other yawning chimps from their own community than with those from a separate community. Christie Nicholson reports

[Yawn sound.] Oh sorry. Well, now that I’ve yawned, you might be yawning, too. Right?

Studies have linked contagious yawning in humans to our capacity for empathy. In fact, scientists have found that those who exhibit empathy easily and often also do more yawning because someone else yawned.

If contagious yawning is indeed a sign of empathy, then we should probably do it more with friends and acquaintances. Because we have an empathetic connection with them that we don’t have with strangers. An Emory University research team decided to test that idea—with chimpanzees, who also yawn contagiously.

Researchers Matthew Campbell and renowned primatologist Franz de Waal,  studied 23 chimpanzees who live in two separate groups. Each chimp watched 20 minutes of videos of others chimp either yawning or just resting. Chimps who saw yawning chimps from their own group yawned 50 percent more than when they watched yawning chimps from the stranger group. The research is published in the journal "Public Library of Science One".

Interestingly, chimps paid more attention to the videos of unfamiliar chimps. Because unfamiliarity breeds concentration. Whereas familiarity apparently breeds [Yawn sound.]

—Christie Nicholson

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