Many people feel that their dogs empathize with them when they are sick or troubled. But now there is scientific evidence to support this! This is really an important breakthrough for lots of reasons and if nothing else should convince the skeptics out there that there is at least a possibility that our dogs empathize.
It has already been documented that dogs are pretty good at reading some social signals like finger pointing. In a study done last year it was found that dogs have approximately the same ability to follow finger pointing as a two-year old child. It was shown that they can also follow head turning and our gaze. It is interesting though that chimpanzees are unable to do this and flunk the finger pointing tests. This means that dogs are better at this form of social gesture than our closest living animal relative.
But now we learn that they also share with humans the “contagious yawn.” A study just recently showed that this occurs cross-species. In fact, seventy-two percent yawned when a human yawned. This is a significantly higher percentage than the contagiousness of yawns between humans, and much larger than the contagiousness of yawns by chimps from humans.
It was also the first time that this contagious yawn was documented between species.
Originally a “releasing mechanism” was thought to be the reason for it being contagious. The releasing mechanism was though to be just the seeing of another yawning. But it turns out, that empathy plays a big part in its occurence. People with autism spectrum disorder are often unable to read social situations well or empathize. Interestingly, contagious yawning in absent in people with autism spectrum disorder. It is thought that this is explained by their lack of the ability to empathize. When indiviuals see others yawn, they do not start yawning.
Hope you aren’t yawning! But if you did, know that you are a person who can empathize!