Interspecies Contagious Yawning in Humans

Interspecies Contagious Yawning in Humans

Sabina Wozny

Faculty: Andrew Gallup

Contagious yawning, or the reflexive tendency to yawn following the detection of yawning in others, is well-documented among humans and a growing number of social vertebrates. While the most common form of yawn contagion occurs among conspecifics, some non-human animals in captivity have been reported to yawn in response to human handlers/caregivers. To date, however, no studies have examined the presence of interspecies contagious yawning in humans.

Therefore, this study sought to provide the first formal investigation of whether people yawn in response to yawns from non-human animals.

In addition, this study aimed to test whether this response was modulated by phylogenic relatedness and social closeness. Using a between-subjects design, a total 258 online participants from Amazon Mechanical Turk self-reported on their yawning behavior following exposure to a compilation of yawning stimuli either from (1) fish, (2) amphibians, (3) reptiles, (4) birds, (5) non-primate mammals, (6) great apes, and (7) domesticated cats and dogs.

Overall, the results provide strong support for interspecies yawn contagion in humans. However, neither the tendency to yawn (binary) nor total yawn frequency varied significantly across the seven conditions. These findings are discussed in relation to the purported link between contagious yawning and empathic processing.