We've all caught ourselves yawning right after a friend yawns, and some people even describe this phenomenon with their pet dogs and cats. But now, for the first time, researchers have discovered a non-mammalian species that is susceptible to "contagious yawning:" budgies. These popular pet birds yawn more when they are shown video of another budgie yawning.

This is undeniably cool, but it is also interesting. Contagious yawning is an expression of empathy, or a the very least is related to empathic ability. Empathy is obviously very important for social animals, since it provides the "glue" that maintains social relationships, allows an individual to understand what others are thinking and feeling, and enhances fitness through making social group function more efficient (and fulfilling!). Contagious yawning is not obviously useful alone, but is instead a manifestation of a larger, and evolutionarily important, trait: the ability to feel empathy.


* The more times you type out the word yawn, the stranger it looks.