Contagious yawning is a well-documented phenomenon in humans and has recently attracted much attention from developmental and comparative sciences. The function, development and underlying mechanisms of the phenomenon, however, remain largely unclear. Contagious yawning has been demonstrated in dogs and several non-human primate species, and theoretically and empirically associated with empathy in humans and non-human primates. Evidence of emotional closeness modulating contagious yawning in dogs has, nonetheless, been contradictory.
Humans show a developmental increase in susceptibility to yawn contagion, with typically developing children displaying a substantial increase at the age of four, when a number of cognitive abilities (e.g. accurate identification of others’ emotions) begin to clearly manifest. Explicit tests of yawn contagion in non-human animals have, however, thus far only involved adult individuals. Here, we report a study of the ontogeny of domestic dogs’ (Canis lupus familiaris) susceptibility to yawn contagion, and whether emotional closeness to the yawning model affects this.
Elainie Alenkær Madsen