You can now read 5 articles in a month for free on Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

Daily Dose

Do puppies learn to catch contagious yawns?

When do we first learn to express empathy? That’s a question psychologists have been probing for some time by, among other things, examining when we learn to imitate yawns. Scientists first came to the conclusion that “yawn contagion” — as they call it — was related to human empathy when they found that toddlers didn’t have it. Research suggests kids learn to yawn in response to others beginning at age 4 when they also learn to read emotional cues.

Is it possible that puppies also have to learn that yawns are contagious? A new study published in the journal Animal Cognition suggests yes. Swedish researchers selected 35 ordinary house dogs of various breeds between 4 and 14 months of age and sat them in front of their owners to see whether they would respond to fake yawns — a gaping mouth with no sounds such as inhaling and exhaling of air — and to realistic yawns that seemed convincing.

Continue reading below

The researchers found that dogs under 7 months didn’t exhibit much contagious yawning: They showed a delayed response to a yawn, sometimes within five minutes, which could have been their way of staying calm.

Does all this prove that dogs, like humans, develop empathy over time? Not by a long shot, concluded the study authors, but it leaves open the possibility. They would like to see their finding confirmed by other studies.

Loading comments...
Want each day's news headlines delivered fresh to your
inbox every morning? Just connect with us
in one of the following ways:
Please enter a valid email will never post anything without asking.
Privacy Policy
Subscriber Log In

You have reached the limit of 5 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of
Marketing image of