Belik, C., Muhr, M., Piringer, M. & Farago, T. (2014). Effects of priming on contagious yawning in domestic dog. Project report, Into Science course, Vetmeduni Vienna.

We adapted the study design of Leighton et al. (2010) but started with contagious before rather than imitation. It consisted of a test of pro-social priming on contagious yawning in the domestic dog. Several studies showed that dogs yawn contagiously but no effect between emotional closeness and strength of contagion was found. As priming influences a response to a later stimulus (Kolb & Wishaw, 2003), the aim of the study was to investigate the effects of priming on contagious yawning. We assumed that more yawning would occur after positive interaction. In the Treatment Phase the owner interacted nicely (e.g. hugging, petting) with the dog (priming) or ignored the dog (non-priming). We divided the dogs into two groups: the yawning group (yawning as stimulus) and the gaping group (gaping as stimulus). In the first five minutes of the Testing Phase the experimenter presented the stimuli (yawning or gaping) to the dog. The comparison between the treatment (priming / non-priming) and the number of yawns revealed no significant results. Also the comparison between the two testing groups (yawning / gaping) and the number of yawns were not significantly different. We considered dog-related factors such as familiarity with the Clever Dog Lab (boredom versus stress) and individual differences (e.g. withdrawal and attentiveness) and situation-related factors such as the “veterinary atmosphere” (Vet Campus, white walls, empty rooms) and the noise during testing (e.g. knocking on door by the helper each minute to give interval signal to the experimenter) as confounding variables. Still, our study provides as a good “baseline” for upcoming studies.For instance, further studies should take the influence of calming signals in dogs into account as well as a reliable differentiation between stress yawning and normal yawning.