September 15, 2010

Yawning Isn’t Contagious

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- If someone near you yawns, chances are that in a few seconds you will too.  It has to do with the balancing of pressure in a room.  It's a well-known phenomenon called contagious yawning and chances are that you too may be a victim.  But at what stage of your life does this phenomenon start having an effect on you?

Here's the question: do you remember the first time you yawned?  You don't need to think to hard about it, cause probably not since you were still in the womb.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut conducted a study to determine the extent to which children at various stages of social development are likely to yawn.  The team studied 120 typically developing 1-to-6-year-olds and found that most of them didn't show signs of contagious yawning until they were 4.

In addition, the team studied 30 6-to-15-year-olds with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), comparing them to other groups of typically developing children.  Researchers reported that children with ASD were less likely to yawn contagiously than their typically developing peers.  It was also reported that children diagnosed with more severe autistic symptoms were much less likely to yawn contagiously than their milder diagnosed peers.

"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," the researchers concluded.

This is one small yawn for science, and one giant yawn to help guide approaches to work with children diagnosed with ASD. 

SOURCE: Child Development, September / October 2010