The Yawn Project

Perhaps the most boring photo collection ever, “The Yawn Project” is a personal project of mine focused on collecting photos of “contagious” yawns in non-human animals. In the context of this project, a “contagious” yawn is one that is precipitated by the subject witnessing a genuine yawn from a human. 

 

Yawns, normally associated with boredom or fatigue, have been identified as a possible measure of empathy amongst humans. When we see another person yawn, mirror neurons in our brains activate. This is believed to allow our brain to essentially copy the perceived physiological or emotional state of the person initiating the yawn. Haker, Kawohl, Herwig, & Rössler (2013) argued that these contagious yawns and subsequent mirror neuron activity could indicate the presence of empathy. 

 

Comparative studies have been conducted in non-human animals to identify whether yawns can be transmitted between species. Indeed it appears as though primates, including chimpanzees, stump tail macaques, and gelada baboons, can catch yawns (Goldman, 2012). To a lesser extent, non-primates such as dogs have also been recorded catching human yawns (Goldman, 2012). Although there is disagreement as to whether these yawns are a result of inter-species empathy, or something more like a fixed action pattern or non-conscious mimicry, the results are still indicative that yawns can be “caught” by our animal counterparts (Goldman, 2012). 

 

The reasons for yawning aside, I really enjoy collecting photos and videos of animals yawning in response to humans. Although most of my photos consist of alpacas yawning, I hope to include photos of other non-human animals catching yawns as time continues. Alpacas appear to catch yawns quite easily, making it pretty easy to capture photos. Each photo in this gallery represents an individual yawn, with certain animals sometimes giving five or six yawns in a session in response to yawn-prompts. I think the resulting photos are pretty cool, and I hope you enjoy some of my favourite yawns as well!

 

 

References

 

Goldman, J. (2012). Contagious yawning: Evidence of empathy? Scientific American, retrieved from https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/thoughtful-animal/contagious-yawning-evidence-of-empathy/

 

Haker, H., Kawohl, W., Herwig, U., & Rössler, W. (2013). Mirror neuron activity during contagious yawning -- an fMRI study. Brain Imaging Behavior, 7(1), 28-34. doi: 10.1007/s11682-012-9189-9