Entries in Contagious (5)


Bone Tired: Study Shows Yawning Dogs Empathizing with Owners

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(LUND, Sweden) -- We’ve all heard that a dog’s bark can be worse than its bite, but what about its yawn?

It turns out that aspect of canine behavior may provide evidence that dogs really are man’s best friend. A study out of Lund University in Sweden found that our canine companions often yawn in reaction to seeing a human do the same thing.

The phenomenon, known as contagious yawning, is prominent among many groups of animals, humans included. However, the process, which is believed to indicate empathy and help contribute to group mentality and social structure, has been less studied between species.

Elainie Madsen, a doctor of psychology at Lund University who co-authored the study, told ABC News dogs were chosen because “they spend so much time with us, and we spend so much time with them.”

“For those of us who have dogs,” she said, “we often feel this very close connection with them, and we feel that they must understand or sympathize with our emotions and our emotional states.”

The study took 35 dogs between the ages of 4 and 14 months and exposed them to various yawning human beings. Madsen found the results fascinating.

“We showed that the dogs were yawning contagiously – not just yawning but they also took on the emotion that yawning usually signifies, which is usually sleepiness and tiredness,” she said.

As with humans, age proved to be a significant factor in whether or not a dog exhibited contagious yawning.

“They go through what seems to be an empathy development that somehow mirrors humans’ empathy development, so it’s just obviously on a very different time scale,” Madsen said. “Human children don’t begin to yawn contagiously until they’re about 4 years old. Below that age, they seem pretty immune to others yawning at them. In dogs, this happens when they’re about 7 months old. Dogs below that age don’t seem to yawn, either.”

So what does this mean for dog owners?

According to Madsen, it’s a reason to rest assured that your dog really does love you as much as you love it.

“Dogs really have a close emotional connection with people,” she said, “with owners as well as with other people.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Yawns More Contagious Between Loved Ones

Medioimages/Photodisc(PISA, Italy) -- Yawns are more contagious between family members and friends than strangers, a new study found.

Researchers from the University of Pisa in Italy observed 109 men and women of various nationalities for up to two hours at a time in their natural settings. Each time a subject yawned, the yawns triggered in those around them were recorded.

“Our results demonstrate that yawn contagion is primarily driven by the emotional closeness between individuals and not by other variables, such as gender and nationality,” Ivan Norscia and Elisabetta Palagi reported Wednesday in the journal Public Library of Science One.

Yawns were most contagious between kin and life partners, followed by friends and then acquaintances, according to the study.

Little is known about the phenomenon known as yawn contagion. A yawn can signal fatigue, stress or boredom. And Norscia and Palagi suspect that, like a smile, a yawn is a form of empathy.

Similarly, smiles are stronger and more sustained when inspired by loved ones, according to a 2009 study of mothers and their infants.

Seeing someone yawn activates a complex network of brain regions involved in movement, sensation and emotion, according to Norscia and Palagi.

“Thus, the neural regions linked to the emotional sphere of positive affect may be over-stimulated in subjects viewing the yawn of someone they care about,” they wrote. “Such over-stimulation may ultimately lead to a potentiated yawning response.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


Can Deadly Virus Scenario in Film 'Contagion' Happen?

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- There may not be any zombies, vampires or mutant monsters wreaking bloody havoc on innocent people, but the fact that Contagion has a premise that experts say is all too plausible may make it the scariest movie of the season.

In the film, a star-studded cast battles a lethal species-jumping virus, rapidly spreading sickness and death around the world.  Director Steven Soderbergh said in interviews that he aimed for scientific and medical realism in the film.  Producers and writers consulted with a number of leading virologists and shot some scenes at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

"Based on my knowledge of the movie, it is a dose of realism.  It deals with issues that have, what we call in the business of investigating outbreaks, biological plausibility," said Barbara Reynolds, senior adviser for crisis communication at the CDC.

"How the virus unfolds in the movie is true to life in terms of how a virus behaves," said Reynolds, who was involved in some of the discussions with Warner Bros.

"The fact that many non-human aspects are covered such as the role of the media, conspiracy theories, transmission, disease surveillance, etc. makes it more plausible," said Dr. Peter Katona, associate professor of clinical medicine at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.

While the virus and its many victims are entirely fictional, experts say the scenario has the potential to be very real.

"This movie and others like it make a point that we are never safe from emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.  They are a continuous public health threat," said Dr. Ali Khan, Assistant Surgeon General and director of the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response at the CDC.

A number of well-known outbreaks show that viruses can easily spread from continent to continent and also re-emerge as new strains.  The United Nations recently warned of a possible resurgence of bird flu, saying a new strain of the virus is spreading around Asia.

West Nile Virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the current dengue outbreak in south Florida are all examples of diseases that started in other parts of the world and eventually made it to the United States.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Ancient Dancing Outbreak Believed To Be Case of Social Contagion

Michael Blann/Lifesize/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It was centuries ago, right around this time, when the city of Aachen, Germany, was struck by an unusual outbreak that, legend says, spread as far away as Madagascar.

According to the scant written accounts there are of the outbreak known as St. Vitus' Dance, back in 1374, groups of people -- sometimes thousands at a time -- started dancing uncontrollably.  It continued for days, and in some cases, weeks and months.  Some people reportedly danced until they collapsed from exhaustion or even death, while others suffered heart attacks and broken bones.

"One written account described people as united by one common delusion," said James Fowler, professor of medical genetics and political science at the University of California, San Diego.

The dancers also seemed to hallucinate and lose control of their senses, Fowler said.

To this day, no one knows what led so many people into the dancing fits.  At the time, many people believed it was a curse.

Fowler and other experts, however, believe the 14th-century dancing outbreak was an early example of social contagion.  Just as yawning and laughing seem to be contagious, experts say manic dancing can be as well.

St. Vitus' Dance, which began exactly 637 years ago last Friday, is also a medical condition known as Sydenham chorea, named after the doctor who discovered it.  The disease seemed to resemble the manic dancing that took place in Europe in honor of St. Vitus, the patron saint of entertainers.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke describes Sydenham chorea as a central nervous system disorder characterized by jerking movements mostly of the face, arms, legs and hands.  It's caused by infection by the same bacteria that cause rheumatic fever.

But as far as the early dancing outbreak is concerned, it's consistent with the belief that people tend to mimic others around them.

"We tend to imitate body language and the emotional state of people that we're with, and we're not aware of it," Fowler said.

John Cacioppo, director of the University of Chicago's Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, said, "A couple of different processes contribute to something like this.  One is peer pressure.  If you're sittng in a setting and everyone is acting in a certain way, you do the same thing."

There's also a concept called pluralistic ignorance, which Cacioppo described as, "I would stop, but I don't see anyone else stopping."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study Suggests Itching Is Contagious

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.) -- The need to scratch an itch may just be in your mind, according to a new study publishing in the British Journal of Dermatology.

Researchers at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center had participants in the study watch videos of other people itching to determine whether being itchy was really a contagious feeling.  They found that participants who saw the videos scratched themselves more intensely and reported feeling itchier than those didn't watch it.

The concept that itching can be visually transmitted could lead to meditation methods to stop the scratching.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio