First study to show that birds and not just mammals copy yawns

May 28, 2015
Melopsittacus undulates. Credit: Andrew Gallup

Have you ever caught yourself yawning right after someone else did? The same happens to budgies, says Andrew Gallup of State University of New York in the US. His research team is the first to note that contagious yawning also occurs between members of a bird species. Thus far, it has only been known to happen with a few mammals. The results are published in Springer's journal Animal Cognition.

Contagious yawning was previously thought only to occur between humans, domestic dogs, chimpanzees and a type of rodent aptly called the high-yawning Sprague-Dawley rat.

"To date, this is the first experimental evidence of contagious yawning in a non-mammalian species," says study leader Gallup. Budgies are of Australian origin and are often kept in cages as pets.

The findings that contagious yawning occurs between budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus), also known as parakeets, in a controlled laboratory setting corroborate a previous observation of the same thing happening in a flock of these social parrots. In the wild, these birds form lasting bonds within breeding pairs and interact within coordinated flocks throughout the year. In a laboratory setting, budgies are known to automatically imitate video stimuli shown to them.

Gallup's team conducted two experiments. In the first, 16 birds were paired in adjacent cages with and without barriers blocking their view. If contagious, yawns should be clustered in time only when the birds can see another. In the second experiment, the same birds were shown separate of a budgie yawning and not yawning.

Yawning was found to occur three times as often within a five-minute window when the birds could see one another than when their view was blocked from the other bird. When they were viewing video clips of another budgie yawning, yawns occurred twice as often. This response was not the result of stress or anxiety.

The researchers believe that contagious yawning is more than just an involuntary action, but is rather a primitive form of showing empathy. It has for instance been found that it is more common among people who are deemed to be more empathic. Thanks to a process called emotional contagion or state matching, occurs when a person thinks about or senses someone else carrying out this somewhat drowsy action.

Birds are known to have certain emphatic responses. Gallup therefore proposes that since contagious yawns can be experimentally manipulated, budgies could be used as a good model to explore other primitive forms of empathic processing in .

Explore further: Wolves susceptible to yawn contagion

More information: "Experimental evidence of contagious yawning in budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulatus)." Animal Cognition. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-015-0873-1

Related Stories

Wolves susceptible to yawn contagion

August 27, 2014

Wolves may be susceptible to yawn contagion, according to a study published August 27, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Teresa Romero from The University of Tokyo, Japan, and colleagues.

As chimpanzees grow, so does yawn contagion

October 16, 2013

As sanctuary-kept chimpanzees grow from infant to juvenile, they develop increased susceptibility to human yawn contagion, possibility due to their increasing ability to empathize, says a study published October 16, 2013, ...

Puppies don't pick up on yawns

October 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 ...

Recommended for you

Why poison frogs don't poison themselves

September 21, 2017

Don't let their appearance fool you: Thimble-sized, dappled in cheerful colors and squishy, poison frogs in fact harbor some of the most potent neurotoxins we know. With a new paper published in the journal Science, scientists ...

Signs of sleep seen in jellyfish

September 21, 2017

Jellyfish snooze just like the rest of us. Like humans, mice, fish and flies, the upside-down jellyfish Cassiopea exhibits the telltale signs of sleep, scientists report September 21, 2017 in the journal Current Biology. ...

0 comments

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.