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Contagious yawning is not a signal of empathy: no evidence of familiarity, gender or prosociality biases in dogs

By Patrick Neilands, Scott Claessens, Ivy Ren, Rebecca Hassall, Amalia P. M. Bastos, Alex H. Taylor

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Abstract

Contagious yawning has been suggested to be a potential signal of empathy in non-human animals. However, few studies have been able to robustly test this claim. Here, we ran a Bayesian multilevel reanalysis of six studies of contagious yawning in dogs. This provided robust support for claims that contagious yawning is present in dogs, but found no evidence that dogs display either a familiarity or gender bias in contagious yawning, two predictions made by the contagious yawning–empathy hypothesis. Furthermore, in an experiment testing the prosociality bias, a novel prediction of the contagious yawning–empathy hypothesis, dogs did not yawn more in response to a prosocial demonstrator than to an antisocial demonstrator. As such, these strands of evidence suggest that contagious yawning, although present in dogs, is not mediated by empathetic mechanisms. This calls into question claims that contagious yawning is a signal of empathy in mammals.

Submitter

Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2020
Publication Title Proceedings of the Royal Society B
Volume 287
Pages 9
DOI 10.1098/rspb.2019.2236
URL https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.2236
Language English
Additional Language English
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Tags
  1. Animal roles
  2. Dogs
  3. Empathy
  4. Mammals
  5. open access
  6. Pets and companion animals
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  1. open access