Yawning, a reflex of deep inhalation and exhalation associated with a need to sleep, is known to be contagious, but this notion doesn't hold true for autistic children.
Atsushi Senju of Birkbeck College in London and his colleagues conducted a study to test the theory that contagious yawning is affected in people with autism, and found an interesting explanation for the same.
The team found that communal yawning is a way of showing empathy with members of your group, something which is compromised in autistic people.
Senju and his team showed videos of people yawning or making other 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, but the normally developing children yawned more in front of the video showing yawning.
The autistic group did not increase their yawning frequency.Dr Senju said that since autistic children seem less capable of empathising, as compared with normal children, the results supported the empathy hypothesis of contagious yawning.
"It supports the claim that contagious yawning is based on the capacity for empathy," Nature quoted the researchers, as stating.
The researchers said the findings offer a great plot to investigate the nature of social and communication impairment in those with autism.
"Further studies are required to investigate the relation between contagious yawning and other symptoms of (autism) such as empathy, imitation and/or face fixation," the researchers wrote.