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Wolves Feel Empathy, Yawning Study

Update Date: Aug 27, 2014 06:31 PM EDT
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Who says wolves don't feel empathy? Like humans and dogs, wolves are also susceptible to yawn contagion, according to new research.

Researchers believe that yawning contagion is linked to the human capacity for empathy.

Previous studies have shown contagious yawning in domestic dogs exposed to human yawns. However, scientists don't know if yawning contagion is a phenomenon rooted in the evolution of mammals or whether it evolved because of domestication.

Researchers monitored and recorded yawning in a single pack of 12 wolves at Tama Zoological Park, in Tokyo, Japan over five months, in relaxed situations or when the animals showed no visible signs of stress. They also recorded the exact time of the yawn, the identity of the initial yawner, and the identity and position of other animals close to the initial yawner.

The study revealed that the strength of the pack member's social bond with the yawning wolf significantly influenced the frequency of contagious yawning.

Furthermore, female wolves were quicker than male wolves to yawn when observing the yawns of close associated. Researchers said the latest study suggests that females are more responsive to surrounding social stimuli.

"In wolves, as well as in primates and dogs, yawning is contagious between individuals, especially those that are close associates. These results suggest that contagious yawning is a common ancestral trait shared by other mammals and that such ability reveals an emotional connection between individuals," researcher Teresa Romero of The University of Tokyo, Japan, said in a news release.

The findings were published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.

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