Some animals, including humans, start yawning after someone nearby yawns, and new study suggests that this “contagious yawn” promotes fuel group cohesion.
Researchers who observed lions in South Africa found that the animals would not only mimic each other’s yawns, but also copy subsequent behaviors.
If a lion yawned, then got up and moved somewhere else, another cat was almost certain to do the same.
Scientists believe that such synchronized behavior enables pride to work as a team, find food, and identify threats to the group.
Lions can yawn each other, just like humans. But while the “contagious yawn” believed to be a sign of empathy in humans, experts say it is a way for Leos to synchronize behaviors and be a more cohesive pride
According to researchers at the University of Pisa, animals yawn for a variety of reasons – sometimes it is a transition from wakefulness to sleep, sometimes a reaction to “high social tension”.
However, a number of social animals – from wolves to birds to monkeys – have been observed to yawn contagiously, with one member of one group causing another to yawn.
“Because of their high social cohesion and synchronized group activity, wild lions are a good model for studying both spontaneous yawning in the physiological field and possibly contagious yawning in the field of social communication,” the scientists wrote in an in the journal Animal Behavior.
When they filmed 19 lions in two groups in the Makalali Game Reserve in Gravelotte, South Africa, they found contagious yawns very common in the cats.
Analysis of 19 lions in South Africa’s Makalali Game Reserve found that a cat would not only copy the yawning of another pride member, but also mimic subsequent behaviors
During the five months of filming, a Leo was more than 139 times more likely to yawn if another member of their pride had yawned in the last few minutes.
In particular, they found that the lions would also mimic behaviors that followed the yawn.
“For example, if one lion yawned, another lion yawned nearby,” said National Geographic.
“Then when the first lion got up and walked a short distance, the same lion that mimicked the yawn would get up and walk a similar distance.”
Sometimes the delay between two lions’ actions was only a matter of seconds.
Researchers who filmed lions in South Africa found that the cats were more than 139 times more likely to yawn if another member of the pride had yawned in the past few minutes
“The data showed a clear picture: After yawning together, two lions would behave very synchronously,” said lead author Elisabetta Palagi, an ethologist, to the magazine.
Scientists have linked contagious yawns to some kind of empathy in humans, but in Lions it may be more of a team-building exercise.
“Lions share many things, such as highly organized hunting and caring [cubs] ”Said Palagi to New Scientist.” Obviously, they need to synchronize movement and communicate and anticipate the actions of their companions. “
This is the first study of its kind to show that yawning together can be part of a larger synchronized behavior.
The team observed spontaneous yawns among the lions, especially when they were relaxed.
The yawns were evenly spaced day and night, which supports the idea of ”transitional” yawns, as lions sleep back and forth over a 24-hour cycle.
The lions yawned spontaneously, especially when relaxed. But the cats did not yawn during times of food competition or other tension, suggesting that they did not yawn like humans.
Yawning increases oxygen uptake and blood flow to the head, and cools the brain, which in turn makes you more alert when you are tired.
The big cats did not yawn noticeably while competing for food or other tension, which suggests that they are not yawning like humans.
Previous research has shown that the contagious yawning phenomenon can even cross species – dogs, chimpanzees, and even African elephants have seen them catch a yawn from people they know well – even if that yawn was fake.