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Journal Article (Refereed)
January 2011

A test of the yawning contagion and emotional connectedness hypothesis in dogs

O'Hara, S & Reeve, A 2011, 'A test of the yawning contagion and emotional connectedness hypothesis in dogs', Animal Behaviour, 81, pp.335-340.


The idea that yawning contagion in humans is predicated on an empathetic response was recently extended to dogs following the report of cross-species contagious yawning in this species (human–dogs). Here we attempt to replicate contagious yawning in dogs and to further investigate what conditions promote yawning contagion. We test the emotional connectedness hypothesis which predicts that contagious yawning is precipitated by exposure to 1) familiar model (primary caregiver) and/or 2) similar model (conspecific) stimuli, if contagious yawning is empathy-related. In our sample of family-owned and rescue centre dogs we further predicted that rescue centre dogs would contagiously yawn less than owned dogs on the basis that they are more lacking in emotional closeness and have more weakly-bonded relationships with their primary care provider than owned dogs. We also controlled for stress since stress can induce yawning. While we found that 5 out of 19 dogs did yawn in response to an unfamiliar human yawning we were unable to confirm contagion. Our results provide no support for empathy-based emotional connectedness yawning contagion in dogs and casts doubt on the recently documented phenomenon of cross-species contagious yawning. We interpret our findings as showing that if dogs are seen contagiously yawning then the contagion must be explained on less cognitively stringent grounds than empathy.


SEEK Members

External Authors

Amy Reeve

Publication Details

Journal Name
Animal Behaviour