15 August 1958 |
|Citizenship||British and Canadian|
|Fields||Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience, and Psychiatry|
|Institutions||University of Cambridge|
|Alma mater||New College, Oxford
King's College London
University College London
|Doctoral advisor||Uta Frith|
|Doctoral students||22 PhD students completed|
|Known for||Autism research|
|Notable awards||Kanner-Asperger Medal 2013 (WGAS)|
Simon Baron-Cohen FBA (born 15 August 1958) is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology in the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. He is the Director of the University's Autism Research Centre, and a Fellow of Trinity College. He is best known for his work on autism, including his early theory that autism involves degrees of "mind-blindness" (or delays in the development of theory of mind); and his later theory that autism is an extreme form of the "male brain", which involved a re-conceptualisation of typical psychological sex differences in terms of empathizing–systemizing theory.
Baron-Cohen completed a BA in Human Sciences at New College, Oxford, and an MPhil in Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London. He did his PhD in Psychology at University College London under the supervision of Professor Uta Frith.
Baron-Cohen was lead author of the first study of children with autism and delays in the development of a theory of mind (ToM) (Cognition, 1985). Much of his early work was in collaboration with his PhD supervisor Uta Frith.
Baron-Cohen's research over the subsequent 10 years provided much of the evidence for the ToM deficit hypothesis, culminating in three edited anthologies (Understanding Other Minds, 1993, 2000, 2013). His research group linked the origins of the ToM deficit to joint attention (Brit J. Dev Psychol, 1987) and said that absence of joint attention at 18 months is a predictor of later autism (British Journal of Psychiatry, 1992, 1996). Based on these and other findings, he proposed a model of the development of ‘mindreading’ in his widely cited monograph 'Mindblindness' (1995, MIT Press). Baron-Cohen has also conducted brain imaging work examining the autistic brain. These studies highlighted differences between the typical and autistic brain in the orbitofrontal cortex (Brit. J. Psychiatry, 1994) PMID 7866679 and the amygdala (Euro. J. Neuroscience, 1999), the latter leading him to propose the amygdala theory of autism (Neurosci. Behav. Rev. 2000). In 2010, with his former doctoral student Michael Lombardo, they showed that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (a region critical to self-understanding and taking others' perspectives) does not differentiate self from other in autism and accounts for variation in social deficits. In 2011, with Lombardo, they also showed that the right temporoparietal junction was hypoactive in autism during ToM tasks.
In the late 1990s Baron-Cohen developed the hypothesis that typical sex differences may provide a neurobiological and psychological understanding of autism (the empathizing–systemizing theory). The theory proposes that autism is an extreme of the male brain (J. Cog. Neurosci, 1997; TICS, 2002). This led to him situating ToM within the broader domain of empathy, and to the development of a new construct (systemizing). The extreme male brain (EMB) theory of autism sees autism as being on a continuum with individual differences in the general population (sex differences). Baron-Cohen proposed that the cause of autism at a biological level may be hyper-masculinization. This hypothesis posits that certain features of autism (‘obsessions’ and repetitive behaviour, previously regarded as ‘purposeless’) as being highly purposive, intelligent (hyper-systemizing), and a sign of a different way of thinking. He wrote a popular book on the topic of sex differences and its relationship to autism (The Essential Difference, Penguin UK/Basic Books 2003).
Baron-Cohen launched the Cambridge Longitudinal Foetal Testosterone (FT) Project in the late 1990s, a research program following children of mothers who had amniocentesis. This aimed to study the effects of individual differences in FT on later child development. This was summarised in a technical monograph (Prenatal Testosterone in Mind, 2004, MIT Press). This study revealed that FT is negatively correlated with social and language development, and is positively correlated with attention to detail and a number of autistic traits (Brit. J. Psychology, 2009). His work studying FT led him to test the hyper-masculinization of autism at the psychometric level and in regard to developmental neurobiology (Science, 2005; PLOS Biology, 2011). The role of foetal testosterone in autism is currently being tested in clinical cases, and has some support from the discovery from Baron-Cohen's lab of androgen-related genes being associated with autistic traits, empathy, and Asperger syndrome (Autism Research, 2009), and from the finding that a precursor to testosterone (androstenedione) is elevated in autism (Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2011). With Mike Lombardo he conducted the first study in humans of where FT influences grey matter in the brain (J. Neuroscience 2012). He is currently collaborating with the Danish Biobank to test if FT and related fetal sex steroids are elevated in people who go on to develop autism.
Baron-Cohen has developed software for special education (Mindreading) and an animation series to teach children with autism to recognise and understand emotions (The Transporters) both of which were BAFTA nominated and have been scientifically evaluated to show that they have benefit to emotional and social learning in autism. Baron-Cohen's work was applied to intervention in the book "Teaching Children With Autism To Mindread" (Wiley, 1997).
Baron-Cohen has worked in another research area: synaesthesia, a neurological condition in which a sensation in one modality (e.g., hearing) triggers a perception in another modality (e.g., colour). He and his colleagues were the first to develop the Test of Genuineness (Perception, 1987) and suggest that synaesthesia is the result of a breakdown in modularity (Perception, 1993). They were also the first to confirm the existence of synaesthesia using neuroimaging (Brain, 1995 and Nature Neuroscience, 1999) and to demonstrate that it is a heritable condition, conducting the first genetic study of synaesthesia (Perception, 1996; American Journal of Human Genetics, 2009).
Baron-Cohen is co-editor in chief of the journal Molecular Autism. and was Chair of the NICE Guideline Development Group for adults with autism (2012). He is also an NHS Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Director of the CLASS Clinic (Cambridge Lifespan Asperger Syndrome Service), a clinic he set up in 1999 which pioneered diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome in adults.
In an article in 2000 (Development and Psychopathology) Baron-Cohen argued that high-functioning autism or Asperger Syndrome need not just lead to disability, but can also lead to talent. He explored this in a talk at the Wired 2012 Conference . In 2012 he also presented a TEDx talk at Parliament UK entitled The Erosion of Empathy (on the topic of the causes of cruelty) . He has appeared in many television science documentaries, one example being Brainman in which he diagnosed Daniel Tammet (who has extreme memory) with both synaesthesia and Asperger Syndrome. In 2013 he presented a second TEDx talk at Kings College London entitled Autism, Sex, and Science (on the topic of why both autism and the mathematical sciences have a male bias).
In 2008 Baron-Cohen assessed Gary McKinnon, the British computer hacker who had been accused of breaking into 97 United States military and NASA computer networks in 2001 and 2002, and diagnosed him as having Asperger Syndrome, which was used by McKinnon's legal defence team to successfully overturn extradition to the US to stand trial.
Personal life and awards
Baron-Cohen was awarded the Spearman Medal from the British Psychological Society (BPS), the McAndless Award from the American Psychological Association, the May Davison Award for Clinical Psychology from the BPS, and the Presidents Award from the BPS. He was President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science Section for Psychology in 2007, and was Vice President of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) for 2009-11. He is also a Vice President of the National Autistic Society (UK). He is a Fellow of the BPS, the BA, and the Association of Psychological Science. He was awarded the Kanner-Asperger Medal in 2013 by the WGAS (Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Autismus Spektrum) as a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to autism research internationally.
Baron-Cohen is the son of Judith and Vivian Baron-Cohen. He is married to Bridget Lindley and together they have three children. His brothers are film director Ash Baron Cohen and Dan Baron Cohen (International Drama and Education Association). His sisters are Suzannah Baron Cohen and acupuncturist Aliza Baron Cohen. His cousins include computer scientist Amnon Baron Cohen, composer and musician Erran Baron Cohen, comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen, composer Lewis Furey, film producer Daniel Louis, playwright Richard Greenblatt, University of Washington chemistry professor Seymour Rabinovitch, University of Montana Japanese professor Judith Rabinovitch, and film-director Mark Robson. His maternal grandfather was Montreal QC Michael Greenblatt, President of the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University and President of the Montreal Jewish General Hospital, whose brother Professor Robert Greenblatt at the Medical College of Georgia produced the first contraceptive pill.
Baron-Cohen's single authored books:
- Baron-Cohen, S (1995) Mindblindness: an essay on autism and theory of mind. MIT Press/Bradford Books.
- Baron-Cohen, S (2003) The Essential Difference: men, women and the extreme male brain. Penguin/Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-7139-9671-5
- Baron-Cohen, S (2008) Autism and Asperger Syndrome: The Facts. OUP.
- Baron-Cohen, S (2011) Zero Degrees of Empathy: A new theory of human cruelty. Penguin/Allen Lane. This appears under a different title in the US:
- Baron-Cohen, S (2011) The Science of Evil: On empathy and the origins of human cruelty. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-02353-0
His multi-authored and edited books include:
- Baron-Cohen, S, and Bolton, P, (1993) Autism: the facts. Oxford University Press.
- Baron-Cohen, S, Tager-Flusberg, H, and Cohen, D.J. (eds,) (1993) Understanding other minds: perspectives from autism. Oxford University Press.
- Baron-Cohen, S, & Harrison, J, (eds: 1997) Synaesthesia: classic and contemporary readings. Blackwells.
- Baron-Cohen S, ed. (1997). The maladapted mind: classic readings in evolutionary psychopathology. East Sussex, UK: Psychology Press/Taylor Francis Group. ISBN 0-86377-460-1. Retrieved 21 January 2011</ref>
- Howlin, P, Baron-Cohen, S, Hadwin, J, & Swettenham, J, (1999). Teaching children with autism to mind-read. Wiley.
- Robertson, M, & Baron-Cohen, S, (1998) Tourette Syndrome: The facts. Oxford University Press.
- Baron-Cohen, S, Tager-Flusberg, H, & Cohen, D, (eds. 2000). Understanding other minds: perspectives from developmental cognitive neuroscience. Oxford University Press.
- Baron-Cohen, S & Wheelwright, S, (2004) An exact mind. Jessica Kingsley Ltd. Artwork by Peter Myers.
- Baron-Cohen, S, Lutchmaya, S, & Knickmeyer, R, (2005) Prenatal testosterone in mind: Studies of amniotic fluid. MIT Press/Bradford Books.
- Baron-Cohen, S, Tager-Flusberg, H, and Cohen, D.J. (eds,) (2007) Understanding other minds: perspectives from developmental cognitive neuroscience – 2nd Edition. Oxford University Press.
- Baron-Cohen, S, Tager-Flusberg, H, and Lombardo, M.V. (eds) (2013) Understanding other minds: perspectives from social cognitive neuroscience – 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press.
- Hadwin, J, Howlin, P, & Baron-Cohen, S, (2008) Teaching children with autism to mindread: a handbook. Wiley.
A book review of Baron-Cohen's The Essential Difference, published in the journal Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, characterized the book as "very disappointing" with a "superficial notion of intelligence", concluding that Baron-Cohen's major claims about mind-blindness and systemizing–empathizing are "at best, dubious".
- "Seven Cambridge academics elected as Fellows of The British Academy". Cambridge University. 2009-07-17. Retrieved 2009-07-17.
- ARC people: Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director Autism Research Centre. Retrieved on 2008-02-16
- Baron-Cohen S, Leslie AM, Frith U (1985). "Does the autistic child have a 'theory of mind'?" (PDF). Cognition 21 (1): 37–46. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(85)90022-8. PMID 2934210. Retrieved 2008-02-16.
- CHAT - The Checklist for Autism In Toddlers. University of Washington. Retrieved on 2008-02-16.
- Ames, D.L., Jenkins, A.J., Banaji, M.R., & Mitchell, J.P. (2008). Taking another person's perspective increases self-referential neural processing. Psychological Science. 19(7), 642-624. http://intl-pss.sagepub.com/content/19/7/642.full
- Lombardo MV, Chakrabarti B, Bullmore ET, Sadek SA, Pasco G, Wheelwright SJ, Suckling J, MRC AIMS Consortium, Baron-Cohen S. Atypical neural self-representation in autism. Brain. 2010;133(2):611–624. doi:10.1093/brain/awp306. PMID 20008375.
- Lombardo MV, Chakrabarti B, Bullmore ET, MRC AIMS Consortium, Baron-Cohen S. Specialization of right temporo-parietal junction for mentalizing and its relation to social impairments in autism. Neuroimage. 2011;56(3):1832–1838. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.02.067. PMID 21356316.
- Mind Reading. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Retrieved on 2008-02-16.
- Home page. The Transporters. Retrieved on 2008-02-16.
- Molecular Autism
- Radio 3: "Private Passions".
- Autism's Lone Wolf, TIME Magazine (August 29th, 2011)
- "Time Out with Nick Cohen". New Statesman. 26 February 2007. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
- Maia Szalavitz (May 30th, 2011). Q&A: Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen on Empathy and the Science of Evil. Time Magazine.
- Levy, Neil (2004). "Book review: Understanding blindness" (subscription required). Phenomenology and the cognitive sciences 3 (3): 315–24.
- They just can't help it, Simon Baron-Cohen, The Guardian (17 April 2003)
- The Male Condition, Simon Baron-Cohen, The New York Times Op-Ed Section, (8 August 2005)
- The Assortative Mating Theory: A Talk with Simon Baron-Cohen, Edge Foundation discussion, 2005
- Autism Research Centre - ARC people : Simon Baron-Cohen
- The Short Life of a Diagnosis Simon Baron-Cohen, The New York Times Op-Ed Section, (November 9, 2009)
- Why a lack of empathy is the root of all evil, Clint Witchalls, The Independent Featured Book Review in Health and Families Section, (5 April 2011)
- The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty, Simon Baron-Cohen, (The Montréal Review, October, 2011)