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Young chimps copy human yawns

By Tim Sandle     Oct 19, 2013 in Environment
Young chimps yawn contagiously when they see humans do it. Some scientists think that this response could be a signal that the animals are developing empathy.
For the study, scientists yawned and wiped their noses in front of 12 infant and 21 juvenile chimpanzees kept in a sanctuary. The Daily Telegraph has reported that researchers observed that the older animals copied the yawns made by the research team. However, the chimps did not copy the nose-wiping behavior. It was also noted that the infant chimps did not mirror other gestures.
Behavioral scientists are of the view that yawning in response to others may be an empathetic response. It would appear, albeit based on a small study, that chimps are capable of the same empathetic response as people. Moreover, the scientists infer that that the juvenile chimps' behavior could be a sign that they are gradually developing empathy during their first years of life.
The video below shows some of the study:
Other than humans, scientists have only seen this cross-species spread and slow development of yawns in dogs.
The research was led by Elainie Madsen and colleagues from Lund University. Talking to the L.A. Times, Dr. Madsen said: “It’s the kind of empathy where, instead of thinking your way into how someone else might be experiencing the world or feeling, you just feel it," Madsen said. "Like when someone cuts their finger you feel sick in your stomach.”
The findings have been published in the journal PLOS ONE. The paper is titled “Chimpanzees Show a Developmental Increase in Susceptibility to Contagious Yawning: A Test of the Effect of Ontogeny and Emotional Closeness on Yawn Contagion.”
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