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Première conférence internationale sur le bâillement
First International Conference on Yawning
Paris 24 - 25 juin 2010
Galerie des Photos de FICY
Contagious Yawning: Developmental and Comparative Perspectives
Atsushi Senju (website of this author)
Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development Birkbeck College, Malet Street, London
Contagious yawning (i.e., yawning triggered by perceiving others' yawning) is a well-documented phenomenon, but the mechanism underlying it is still unclear. In this chapter, I review the current evidence about (a) developmental studies with typically and atypically developing population and (b) comparative studies in non-human animals. Developmental studies have revealed that contagious yawning is disturbed in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders, suggesting that contagious yawning may share a developmental basis with the capacity for theory of mind. Comparative studies have suggested that contagious yawning can be observed in non-primate species such as domestic dogs. As dogs are known to have exceptional skills in communicating with humans, it has also been suggested that contagious yawning may be related to the capacity for social communication. These results from developmental and comparative studies are consistent with the claim that the mechanism underlying contagious yawning relates to the capacity for empathy.
Lack of contagious yawning in autism
Even among the normal population, it's likely that people react differently to seeing someone near them yawn. Within normal adults, there can be huge individual variability related to contagious yawning. We test the theory that contagious yawning is affected in people with autism. The yawning faces triggered more than twice as many yawns in non-autistic children than in their autistic counterparts. This kind of yawning is thought to be based at least partly on the capacity for empathy, which is compromised in autistic persons. There's likely to be a continuum, with autistic people and possibly others with similar social deficits lying at the extreme end.
Dogs catch human yawns
The dog has a special relationship with humans, going beyond that of other domestic animals. Recent evidence suggests this comes from domestication rather than wolf behaviour, perhaps involving something as simple as a change in natural looking behaviour. The selection of dogs that were more communicative and aware of human emotions then wolfs, probably helped them to be so empathic. "As the dog's amazing skills to read human communication cues are thought to have been selected by human over last 15,000 years, it is also possible that the same evolutionary process affected their skills to empathise with humans". We review the behavioral capacity of dogs to catch human yawns looking like human contagiosiness, showing that dogs possess the capacity for a rudimentary form of empathy.