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Chimps catch people’s yawns in sign of flexible empathy

After getting accustomed to people, apes open wide at sight of gape-mouthed human strangers

8:05pm, March 11, 2014

YAWN BONDS  Chimps catch yawns not only from members of their group but from familiar and unfamiliar people, a new study finds. Researchers suggest that the apes employ this form of empathic behavior with humanlike flexibility.

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Chimpanzees possess a flexible, humanlike sensitivity to the mental states of others, even strangers from another species, researchers suggest March 11 in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. Empathy’s roots go back at least to the common ancestor of humans and chimps, they say.

Psychologist Matthew Campbell and biologist Frans de Waal, both of Emory University in Atlanta, treated chimps’ tendency to yawn when viewing videotapes of others yawning as a sign of spontaneous empathy. Their research follows other scientists’ observations that young chimps mimic scientists’ yawns (SN Online: 10/16/13).

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