Next time someone yawns during your meeting, don’t hold it against them. According to the Telegraph, research into autism has led scientists to solve the question of the contagious yawn. We yawn, they say, because we care.
The mystery of the spreading yawn has baffled professors and boardroom execs for years: Why does one yawn spawn countless others??And what, for that matter, is the purpose of a yawn, anyway?
Researchers at the University of Connecticut now claim to have the answer. Following a pair of studies on yawning in children, the team has concluded that the yawn is an emotional response, an evolved defense mechanism designed to fight lethargy in the face of danger.
Scientists noticed that young children are immune to the effects of the contagious yawn. The scientists also discovered that children with autism, a developmental disorder characterized by a lack of social understanding, were less prone to suffer from the spreading yawn — to a degree relative to the severity of their autism.
“This study suggests that empathy ... develop[s] slowly over the first few years of life,” researchers wrote, “and that children with autism spectrum disorders may miss subtle cues that tie them emotionally to others.”