Why yawning is contagious in bonobos

Nov 14, 2012
Yawning is contagious in bonobos. Credit: Elisa Demuru

Being socially close to another bonobo is more likely to make bonobo apes yawn in response to the other's yawns, according to research published November 14 in the open access journal PLOS ONE by Elisabetta Palagi and Elisa Demuru from the University of Pisa, Italy.

The researchers found that yawning in bonobos is more contagious when individuals are strongly bonded to one another as kin or close friends. They also found that yawn contagion was higher when individuals were more relaxed, but occurred in every context when the first yawner was a senior member of the group.

Previous research has found similar results in humans, showing that a person is more likely to yawn when family or close friends do, rather than in response to a stranger's yawning. Though this social component of yawn contagion is well-known, its origins and significance are still being studied.

Yawn contagion may be a way for social groups to unconsciously communicate and coordinate activities, but unlike other forms of unconscious communication, has a unique emotional component, since it appears to occur more frequently between closely bonded individuals. The authors say, "Though we are still far from a clear demonstration of a link between contagion and empathy, the importance of in shaping this phenomenon in suggests that a basic form of empathy may play a role in modulating yawning behavior."

Explore further: Norway tests out 'animal rights cops'

More information: Demuru E, Palagi E (2012) In Bonobos Yawn Contagion Is Higher among Kin and Friends. PLoS ONE 7(11): e49613. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0049613

Related Stories

Those who stay together yawn together

Dec 07, 2011

You're more likely to respond to a yawn with another yawn when it comes from family member or a friend than from a stranger, says a study published Dec. 7 in the online journal PLoS ONE.

Puppies don't pick up on yawns

Oct 23, 2012

Do you get tired when others yawn? Does your dog get tired when you yawn? New research from Lund University establishes that dogs catch yawns from humans. But not if the dogs are too young. The study, published in Springer's ...

Yawn alert for weary drivers

Jul 27, 2009

We've all experienced it after long hours driving, the eyelids getting heavy, a deep yawn, neck muscles relaxing, the urge to sleep, the head nodding down... But, you're hands are still on the wheel and you only just stopped ...

Recommended for you

Norway tests out 'animal rights cops'

8 hours ago

Norwegian police is creating a unit to investigate cruelty to animals, the government said Monday, arguing that those who hurt animals often harm people too.

High-pitched sounds cause seizures in old cats

10 hours ago

When the charity International Cat Care asked veterinary neurologists at Davies Veterinary Specialists, UK, for help with several enquiries it had received regarding cats having seizures, seemingly in response ...

Bumblebees use nicotine to fight off parasites

16 hours ago

Researchers from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and Royal Holloway, University of London (RHUL), gave bumblebees the option to choose between a sugar solution with nicotine in it and one without. ...

Two new iguanid lizard species from the Laja Lagoon, Chile

16 hours ago

A team of Chilean scientists discover two new species of iguanid lizards from the Laja Lagoon, Chile. The two new species are believed to have been long confused with other representatives of the elongatus-kriegi ...

ANZAC grevillea hybrid marks centenary celebrations

17 hours ago

Through an intense breeding program of native flora, Kings Park botanists have provided the Western Australian RSL with a commemorative grevillea (Proteaceae) in time for the Anzac Centenary.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.