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Dev Psychopathol. 2019 Mar 29:1-11. doi: 10.1017/S0954579419000154. [Epub ahead of print]

Emotional contagion in children with autism spectrum disorder varies with stimulus familiarity and task instructions.

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Departments of Psychology and Neuroscience,Trinity College,Hartford,CT,USA.
Department of Psychology,University of Connecticut,Storrs,CT,USA.
Department of Psychology,Trinity College,Hartford,CT,USA.


Although deficits in cognitive empathy are well established in individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the literature on emotional empathy, or emotional contagion, in individuals with ASD is sparse and contradictory. The authors tested susceptibility to contagious yawning and laughter in children with ASD (n = 60) and typically developing (TD) children (n = 60), ages 5-17 years, under various conditions, to elucidate factors that may affect emotional contagion in these populations. Although TD children showed equal amounts of emotional contagion across conditions, children with ASD were highly influenced by the familiarity of the target stimulus, as well as task instructions that encourage eye gaze to target. More specifically, children with ASD exhibited less contagious yawning and laughter than their TD peers except when their attention was explicitly directed to the eyes or (and even more so) when their parents served as the stimulus targets. The authors explore the implications of these findings for theories about the mechanisms underlying empathic deficits in ASD as well as the clinical implications of having parents involved in treatment.


autism spectrum disorder; emotional contagion; empathy; parent–child interaction


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