Healthy children are more likely to be infected by the yawning of their counterpart than autistic people. Image: Stewart Butterfield, www.wikipedia.de
Reading Autistic children are not so easily infected by the yawning of another person as peers without the developmental disorder. Japanese and British scientists have observed this when they showed video films of yawning men and women to children ages 7 to 16 years old. The difference is, according to the researchers, evidence of the thesis that empathy and compassion are prerequisites for the phenomenon of contagious yawning? after all, it is these abilities that are weak in most autistic individuals. Spontaneous yawning is common among vertebrates. On the other hand, the irresistible urge to yawn also, if anyone in the vicinity even only starts, according to previous knowledge only in humans, chimpanzees and possibly still stubby macaws before. And although this phenomenon has been studied intensively for some time now, researchers still can not say exactly what lies behind this strange urge to join in the process. The most widely accepted theory at the moment regards contagious yawning as an act of empathy, in which a person unconsciously transposed into his counterpart and understood his feelings.

If this is true, according to the researchers of Atsushi Senju, the contagion would be denied to people who find it very difficult to assess others' emotions. Because such inability is typical of autism, the researchers tested on 24 autistic and 25 healthy children as they responded to video footage of people yawning. The result confirmed the assumptions: the autistic children did not get animated, while the small control subjects yawned more often than usual during the test, as expected.

The clear difference between the two groups can be interpreted as confirmation of the thesis of empathy, write the researchers. However, further studies are needed to confirm this link, as there are other potential explanations. For example, autistic people are often fixated on the mouth of their counterparts and pay little attention to the eye area, the scientists explain. However, according to current knowledge, it is precisely the eyes that convey the most important triggers for the contagious yawn. In addition, it must be ruled out that a defective mirror neuron system was responsible for the results. This network of nerve cells is responsible for understanding observed movements and actions and to learn from them.

Atsushi Senju (University of London) et al .: Biology Letters, online pre-release, DOI: 10.1098 / rsbl.2007.0337 ddp / science.de? Ilka Lehnen-Beyel advertisement

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