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Significance The question of how empathy has evolved has recently gained traction in the scientific community. Contagious yawning has become a central aspect of this research into the evolution of empathy. Contagious yawning is related to the automatic transfer of emotion from one individual to another (emotional contagion), which is theorized to be an adaption to facilitate prosocial interactions within a social group (de Waal, 2008). Prosocial behaviors are thought to have evolved from mechanisms that allowed parents to pay attention and bond with offspring and were extended to help individuals in their social groups. Recent research has looked into contagious yawning in the domestic dog in response to human yawns. However, looking for the key attachment criteria has had mixed results. Oxytocin is related to emotional recognition and attachment (cite). Oxytocin has been shown to cause yawns in rats in a way that interacts with the amygdala, suggesting a emotional component to yawning (Melis et al., 1986; Sabba et al., 20012) Thus, oxytocin is a prime candidate for mechanism by which contagious yawning is mediated. Oxytocin has not yet been fully studied in relation to contagious yawning. In this study we will examine contagious yawning of domestic dogs in response to either their owner or a stranger and the relationship between oxytocin and the contagious yawning. Both oxytocin and cortisol will be measured along with the yawning conditions. The dogs should yawn to more to the owner than to the stranger and more to yawns than random mouth movements. If oxytocin does mediate contagious yawning then oxytocin should peak when their owner is yawning and cortisol should peak when the stranger is yawning. Background Empathy is often... ... middle of paper ... ...nnect empathy to contagious yawning one must find a yawning bias based on familiarity or other forms of attachment. Oxytocin has not yet been studied directly in relation to contagious yawning and provides a possible mechanism by which contagious yawning functions. In the proposed study we would measure the levels of oxytocin and cortisol in the domestic dog while either a stranger or the owner are yawning or making random mouth movements. The dog should yawn more in response to yawns than to random mouth movements and more to their owner than to the stranger. When yawning to their owner the dog should have higher levels of oxytocin than when yawning to the stranger. Also, oxytocin should be higher when contagious yawning than other tasks that display no emotional content. However, if contagious yawning is mediated by stress one would expect an increase in cortisol.
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