Contagious Yawning in Autistic and Typical Development


  • These data were collected as part of the requirement for completion of the masters thesis of the first author. We thank Kastley Marrin and Melissa Fernandez for their patience and attention to detail in coding and entering data.

concerning this article should be addressed to Molly S. Helt, Department of Psychology, University of Connecticut, 406 Babbidge Rd, Unit 1020, Storrs, CT 06269. Electronic mail may be sent to


The authors tested susceptibility to contagious yawning in 120 children, 1–6 years, to identify the time course of its emergence during development. Results indicated a substantial increase in the frequency of contagious yawning at 4 years. In a second study, the authors examined contagious yawning in 28 children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), 6–15 years. Children with ASD showed diminished susceptibility to contagious yawning compared with 2 control groups matched for mental and chronological age, respectively. In addition, children diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) a milder variant of autism, were more susceptible to contagious yawning than were children diagnosed with full Autistic Disorder. The authors explore the implications of these findings for theories about the development of mimicry and emotional contagion.