The Connections among Contagious Yawning, Attachment, and Empathy in Dogs (Canis familiaris)

Steven C. Kyle, The College of Wooster


The current study examined empathy, contagious yawning, attachment, and the relationship among them in dogs. The theoretical explanation of an evolved empathy suggests that if the mechanisms of empathy were evolved, a difference in response to other's emotions would be observed depending on how socially or genetically close an animal is to another. Contagious yawning has also been shown to be connected to the simple mechanisms by which emotions are transferred from one individual to another. The dogs in the present study were shown videos of owners and strangers yawning and their reaction was recorded. The dogs were then shown the owners and strangers either laughing or crying and the dog's response was recorded. The dogs were able to respond in an empathetic like way to the crying of the owner, but did not respond to the stranger. There was also a negative correlation between the age of the dog and the response to the stranger crying. The dogs did not yawn contagiously to either the owner or the stranger. The findings were interpreted as showing some support for the response to crying having a connection to empathy, but further study is needed to confirm the connection.