A new study shores up the idea that ‘yawn contagion’ can leap the species barrier, but the science remains unsettled.
Every corner of science has its own set of small, but significant proxy wars. A tiny thing — one measurement, one behavior, one fossil reconstruction — becomes the factor that could prove or disprove a theory that competing scientists may have spent their whole career working on. And sometimes that mini-debate, so crucial to the workings of our research apparatus, takes this form: Can dogs catch yawns from humans?
This may seem silly, but contagious yawning is an oft-studied phenomenon. It’s become an important way to study empathy both because children on the autism spectrum don’t “catch” other people’s yawns and because there appears to be a correlation between people’s scores on empathy tests and their susceptibility to catching yawns. In short: more yawning equals more empathy.
ALEXIS C. MADRIGAL