iPod Touch + Chimps + Clever Idea = Science

Oji zoo, Kobe, Japan

Over at The Thoughtful Animal, which thoughtful animals should read regularly, Jason Goldman covers a clever study on contagious yawning in chimps. It’s a small study, so apply the appropriate dose of of salt. But it’s an interesting little study, and I especially like the methodological efficiency here, in which the researchers use two simple instruments, a video camera and an iPod Touch, to quickly test two interesting questions:

1. Do chimps do contagious yawning?

2. Do they do it more so if the yawner is a friend?

The clever experiment they developed, reports Goldman, “provides strong evidence that empathy does underlie contagious yawning, and that contagious yawning is dependent on social group membership.” There are, of course,  caveats, complications, and delightful wrinkles. Those, as well as the clever methods, are covered ably over at The Thoughtful Animal.


Photo by Pelican, via Flickr.

The study:

Matthew W. Campbell, & Frans B. M. de Waal (2011). Ingroup-Outgroup Bias in Contagious Yawning by Chimpanzees Supports Link to Empathy PLoS ONE, 6 (4) :10.1371/journal.pone.0018283

Some empathetic chimpy links from Neuron Culture and Wired:

Why Do We Love the Robotic Packmule?

The Great Gatsby Channels Bill Clinton

The love-hate hormone, ingroup/outgroup wars

My Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex Goes Out To You | Bodyhack

from Jason Goldman:

Yawn yawn yawn yawn yawn! Contagious Yawn!

Yawning Together

Digitizing Jane Goodall’s Legacy at Duke

The Fate of the Alamogordo Chimps

A Bonobo in the Hand or Two Chimps in the Bush?

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