Animal empathy studies: Domestic observations

Anne M Carson

In recent years there has been much research to examine the relationship between mammal yawn contagion and empathy

   1. Emotional contagion
His body, waxy with absence, is in the room at the end
of the long lonely corridor. Only fifty-six, strong. I drive
you home to tell the boys. We huddle, oblivious to setting, 
arms locked around their shoulders. Heads bowed,
touching in the centre, too stunned for tears. An eternal
moment of incredulity. Coby, the black lab, pushes
through leg’s ramparts, noses into that circle of grief,
sits in the centre, muzzle pointing up, keening with us.
   2. Yawning contagion
I tell you about yawn contagion in animals – higher-
order apes, dogs, even cats. We decide to experiment.
Two women, a domestic short hair and black lab recline
in front of the fire. I force a yawn, turn open-mouthed
first to dog, then cat. Your yawn follows, evokes
a genuine yawn in me. The human yawn contagion
is real and unstoppable. The animals look at us,
bewildered, jaws clenched on the incomprehensible.
   3. Consolation behaviour
I visit the hospice daily for six weeks. It is near the end.
I only allow tears in the ragged hours, propped up in bed.
One night, an animal bellow breaks from me, I howl, torn
and tattered with loss. As the sobs subside, domestic long
hair Charlie, hops onto the bed, prowls the length of my
body, sits facing me; back paws on my lap, front paws on
my chest. Her delicate tongue laps tears from my cheek.

Anne M Carson is a poet, essayist and visual artist whose poetry has been published internationally, and widely in Australia, receiving numerous awards including winning and shortlisting in the Martha Richardson Prize, and shortlisting in the 2022 Newcastle Poetry Prize. The Detective’s Chair is forthcoming in 2023 (Liquid Amber Press). She is a PhD candidate in creative writing at RMIT.



%d bloggers like this: