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Children under four and children with autism don't yawn contagiously

Date:
September 16, 2010
Source:
Society for Research in Child Development
Summary:
A new study found that most children don't yawn contagiously until about age 4, and that children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are less likely to yawn in response to another person yawning that children without autism.

If someone near you yawns, do you yawn, too? About half of adults yawn after someone else does in a phenomenon called contagious yawning. Now a new study has found that most children aren't susceptible to contagious yawning until they're about 4 years old -- and that children with autism are less likely to yawn contagiously than others.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut, appears in the September/October 2010 issue of the journal Child Development.

To determine the extent to which children at various stages of social development are likely to yawn contagiously, the researchers studied 120 typically developing 1- to 6-year-olds. Although babies begin to yawn spontaneously even before they leave the womb, most of the children in this study didn't show signs of contagious yawning until they were 4.

The team also studied about 30 6- to 15-year-olds with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), comparing them to two other groups of typically developing children with the same mental and chronological ages. The children with ASD were less likely to yawn contagiously than their typically developing peers, the researchers found. And children with diagnoses that imply more severe autistic symptoms were much less likely to yawn contagiously than those with milder diagnoses.

"Given that contagious yawning may be a sign of empathy, this study suggests that empathy -- and the mimicry that may underlie it -- develops slowly over the first few years of life, and that children with ASD may miss subtle cues that tie them emotionally to others," according to the researchers. This study may provide guidance for approaches to working with children with ASD so that they focus more on such cues.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Society for Research in Child Development. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Molly S. Helt, Inge-Marie Eigsti, Peter J. Snyder, Deborah A. Fein. Contagious Yawning in Autistic and Typical Development. Child Development, 2010; 81 (5): 1620 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2010.01495.x

Cite This Page:

Society for Research in Child Development. "Children under four and children with autism don't yawn contagiously." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 September 2010. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100915080427.htm>.
Society for Research in Child Development. (2010, September 16). Children under four and children with autism don't yawn contagiously. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 1, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100915080427.htm
Society for Research in Child Development. "Children under four and children with autism don't yawn contagiously." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100915080427.htm (accessed September 1, 2014).

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