You probably know that yawns are contagious
But did you know that your yawns might be transmissible to your dog? That’s what the results of a new study suggest. Interestingly, the dogs responded much more strongly when they hear the yawns of their owners, suggesting dogs form tight bonds with familiar people.
Earlier work has suggested a link between contagious yawning and empathy. Humans and chimps both yawn more when friends and acquaintances yawn than when strangers yawn, and people who don’t have much insight into what others are feeling—such as very young children and people with autism—don’t seem to catch contagious yawns. This is some of the strongest evident yet that dogs—humans’ constant companions for 15,000 years—may be able to empathize with us. But a yawn alone can’t tell us what’s going on in a dog’s brain, or its heart of hearts. A similar behavior doesn’t necessarily mean a similar emotion underlying it: What looks like empathy could be something simpler, or something else entirely.