One sleepy person can start a bout of contagious yawning that quickly spreads through a room. But a new study suggests the effect may not be limited to the room’s human inhabitants: Dogs can “catch” yawns from people, the study found—especially their owners, hinting that pooches may empathize with familiar people.
When listening to recordings of people yawning, 12 of the 29 dogs in the study yawned themselves. It made a big difference, however, whom they heard: The dogs yawned more than four times as much when they heard their owner yawn as when they heard as a stranger.
As we descend into another election year, it would be nice if we could remember that people across the political divide are, er, people too. Unfortunately, that’s harder than it sounds, according to a new study in Psychological Science. Democrats and Republicans both are less likely to empathize with people from the opposite end of the political spectrum.
Psychologists know that empathy is often dependent on similarity. It’s easier, for example, to empathize with Jack London’s characters when you’re reading about Yukon explorers at a snowy bus stop than on the beach in Cancun. The researchers devised a clever experiment where students at a Michigan bus stop in January were asked to do a “reading comprehension” test. The short story they read, about a hiker who gets lost without clothes, food, or water, also inserted some clues to the hiker’s political affiliations.
What’s the News: Chimpanzees, like people, can “catch” yawns from others. But not all yawns are created equal, it seems; chimps are more likely to catch yawns from a chimp they know than from a stranger, a new study found. (You can see a video of it here.) This supports the idea that it’s empathy—rather than just everybody needing a nap—that makes yawns contagious.