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New research discovers children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are not susceptible to contagious yawning

20.08.2007
New research by Birkbeck researcher Dr Atsushi Senju, in the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development has shown - for the first time - that children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are not susceptible to contagious yawning.

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability that severely affects social interaction and communication including empathy. Contagious yawning is when yawning is triggered by perceiving others’ yawns – and is thought to share similar cognitive and neural mechanisms as empathy.

‘This is the first report that a neuropsychological or psychiatric condition can selectively impair contagious yawning, sparing spontaneous yawning,’ said Dr Senju. ‘Our study confirms the prediction of ‘empathy theory’, by demonstrating that individuals with autism, who show atypical developments in empathy, also show selective impairment in contagious yawning.’

Dr Senju, and colleagues from the University of Tokyo, showed videos of people yawning or making mouth movements to 24 children with autism spectrum disorder and to 25 normally developing children. In the tests both groups of children yawned about the same amount while watching the video of general mouth movements. Whereas the normally developing children yawned more in front of the video showing people yawning, whilst the autistic group did not increase their yawning frequency.

Becci Cussens | alfa
Further information:
http://www.bbk.ac.uk

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