Why contagious yawning does not (yet) equate to empathy

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Abstract

Various studies and researchers have proposed a link between contagious yawning and empathy, yet the conceptual basis for the proposed connection is not clear and deserves critical evaluation. Therefore, we systematically examined the available empirical evidence addressing this association; i.e., a critical review of studies on inter-individual differences in contagion and self-reported values of empathy, differences in contagion based on familiarity or sex, and differences in contagion among individuals with psychological disorders, as well as developmental research, and brain imaging and neurophysiological studies. In doing so, we reveal a pattern of inconsistent and inconclusive evidence regarding the connection between contagious yawning and empathy. Furthermore, we identify study limitations and confounding variables, such as visual attention and social inhibition. Future research examining links between contagious yawning and empathy requires more rigorous investigation involving objective measurements to explicitly test for this connection.

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