Researches in Japan have concluded that dogs empathize with their owner at a much profounder level than considered so far. The owner’s yawn is contagious to the dog, the new study says. The news was first reported by MedicalNewsToday.com
Experts at the University of Tokyo have noted that the dogs yawn after seeing their owners do it. The reason was not the one they suspected initially – stress –, but empathy. Even though it is known that yawning is contagious among humans, being spread around in 60% of the cases, it never been proven that it can spread to dogs, as well.
Yawning is associated with activations of the neural networks responsible for social skills and especially empathy. As a conclusion, the contagiousness of yawning is linked to social interaction and attachment, making it more likely to occur between individuals that share a personal connection than between strangers.
Researchers have found that dogs are so attached to their owners that they respond to their yawning almost every time. It has also been observed that this behavior is more rare when it comes to total strangers. In addition, our four-legged friends, do not respond to fake yawns.
The original theory on which the study was based stated that contagious yawning in dogs was an effect of distress, which turned out not to be the case. Moreover, not only is the yawning spreading through empathy, but it is specific to other species, as well.
“The evidence supporting the link between contagious yawning and empathy is not specific to humans”, the researchers concluded in an article published in PLOS ONE. “Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), bonobos (Pan paniscus) and gelada baboons (Theropithecus gelada) have been reported to yawn contagiously when they observe a conspecific yawning.”