Baron-Cohen in 2011
|Born||15 August 1958|
|Fields||Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience|
|Institutions||University of Cambridge|
|Thesis||Social cognition and pretend-play in autism (1985)|
|Doctoral advisor||Uta Frith|
|Known for||Autism research|
|Notable awards||Kanner-Asperger Medal 2013 (WGAS)|
Simon Baron-Cohen FBA is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology 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 the 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 what he calls the "male brain", which involved a re-conceptualisation of typical psychological sex differences in terms of empathizing–systemizing theory.
Personal life and education
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 completed a PhD in Psychology at University College London; his doctoral research was in collaboration with his supervisor Uta Frith.
Baron-Cohen was lead author in 1985 of the first study of children with autism and delays in the development of a theory of mind, known as ToM. The theory of mind is the ability to detect other people's emotions and thoughts, and it is a skill that according to Baron-Cohen's research is typically delayed developmentally in children with autism.
Baron-Cohen and his colleagues discovered in 1987 the first evidence that experiences in synaesthesia remain consistent over time; they also found synaesthesia to be measurable via neuroimaging techniques. His team has investigated whether synaesthesia is connected to autism.
In 1997, Baron-Cohen developed the empathizing–systemizing theory, which theorises that a cognitive profile he terms "empathising-systemising", associated with math, science and technology skills, exists in families with autism spectrum disorders. He suspects that if individuals with a "systemising" focus are selecting each other as mates, they are more likely to have children with autism. He postulates that more individuals with autistic traits are marrying each other and having children. He said that "In essence, some geeks may be carriers of genes for autism: in their own life, they do not demonstrate any signs of severe autism, but when they pair up and have kids, their children may get a double dose of autism genes and traits. In this way, assortative mating between technical-minded people might spread autism genes." Time magazine said that his views on systemising traits had "earned him the ire of some parents of autistic children, who complain that he underestimates their families' suffering". Time said that while research from Washington University in St. Louis did not support the assortive mating theory, a survey finding that autism was twice as high in Eindhoven (the Silicon Valley of the Netherlands) had "breathed new life" into Baron-Cohen's theory.
Baron-Cohen's work in systemising-empathising led him to investigate whether higher levels of foetal testosterone explain the increased prevalence of autism spectrum disorders among males; his theory is known as the "extreme male brain" theory of autism. A review of his book The Essential Difference published in Nature in 2003 summarises his proposal as: "the male brain is programmed to systemize and the female brain to empathize ... Asperger's syndrome represents the extreme male brain". Critics say that because his work has focused on higher-functioning individuals with autism spectrum disorders, it requires independent replication with broader samples. A Nature article published in 2011 says, "Some critics are also rankled by Baron-Cohen's history of headline-grabbing theories—particularly one that autism is an 'extreme male' brain state. They worry that his theory about technically minded parents may be giving the public wrong ideas, including the impression that autism is linked to being a 'geek'."
In 2001 he developed the Autism Spectrum Quotient, a set of fifty questions that can be used to help determine whether or not an adult exhibits symptoms of autism. Neuroscientist Francesca Happé questions whether the questionnaires produce objective enough results to be useful, as they rely on the subject's self-evaluation rather than independent observations. Psychologist Uta Frith agrees, and notes that "rigorous studies are still missing".
Baron-Cohen developed the Mindreading software for special education, which was nominated for an award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) interactive award in 2002. His lab developed The Transporters, an animation series designed to teach children with autism to recognise and understand emotions. The series was also nominated for a BAFTA award.
He serves as Vice-President of the National Autistic Society (UK), and was the 2012 Chair of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Guideline Development Group for adults with autism. He has served as Vice-President of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR). He is co-editor in chief of the journal Molecular Autism.
Baron-Cohen was awarded the 1990 Spearman Medal from the BPS, the McAndless Award from the American Psychological Association, the 1993 May Davidson Award for Clinical Psychology from the BPS, and the 2006 Presidents' Award from the BPS. He was awarded the Kanner-Asperger Medal in 2013 by the Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Autismus-Spektrum as a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to autism research.
In 2005, Baron-Cohen appeared in the 2005 Science Channel documentary Brainman about Daniel Tammet. In 2008, he confirmed the Asperger syndrome diagnosis of Gary McKinnon, the British computer hacker accused of breaking into United States military and NASA computer networks, and appeared in Private Passions, the biographical music discussion programme hosted by Michael Berkeley on BBC Radio 3. He presented a 2012 TEDx talk on the causes of cruelty at Parliament UK entitled "The erosion of empathy". His theory that high-functioning autism or Asperger syndrome can lead to a career choice in the sciences was explored in a talk at the Wired 2012 Conference.
- Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind. MIT Press/Bradford Books. 1995. ISBN 978-0-262-02384-9.
- The Essential Difference: Men, Women and the Extreme Male Brain. Penguin/Basic Books. 2003. ISBN 978-0-7139-9671-5.
- Autism and Asperger Syndrome. Facts. Oxford University Press. 2008. ISBN 978-0-19-850490-0.
- Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty. Penguin/Allen Lane. 2011. ISBN 978-0-7139-9791-0. (published in the US as The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Human Cruelty, ISBN 978-0-465-02353-0)
- Baron-Cohen S, Tager-Flusberg H, Lombardo MV, ed. (2013). Understanding Other Minds: Perspectives From Social Cognitive Neuroscience (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-852446-5.
- Hadwin J, Howlin P, Baron-Cohen S (2008). Teaching Children with Autism to Mindread: A Practical Guide for Teachers and Parents. Wiley. ISBN 978-0-471-97623-3.
- Baron-Cohen S, Lutchmaya S, Knickmeyer R (2005). Prenatal Testosterone in Mind: Amniotic Fluid Studies. MIT Press/Bradford Books. ISBN 978-0-262-26774-8.
- Baron-Cohen S, Wheelwright S (2004). An Exact Mind: An Artist with Asperger Syndrome. Jessica Kingsley. ISBN 978-1-84310-032-4.
- Baron-Cohen S, Tager-Flusberg H, Cohen DJ, ed. (2000). Understanding Other Minds: Perspectives from Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-852445-8.
- Baron-Cohen S, Harrison J, ed. (1997). Synaesthesia: Classic and Contemporary Readings. Blackwells. ISBN 978-0-631-19763-8.
- 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.
Selected journal articles
- Baron-Cohen S, Leslie AM, Frith U (October 1985). "Does the autistic child have a "theory of mind"?". Cognition 21 (1): 37–46. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(85)90022-8. PMID 2934210.
- Baron-Cohen S, Wheelwright S, Skinner R, Martin J, Clubley E (February 2001). "The autism-spectrum quotient (AQ): evidence from Asperger syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists and mathematicians". J Autism Dev Disord 31 (1): 5–17. doi:10.1023/A:1005653411471. PMID 11439754.
- Baron-Cohen S, Wheelwright S, Hill J, Raste Y, Plumb I (February 2001). "The "Reading the Mind in the Eyes" Test revised version: a study with normal adults, and adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism". J Child Psychol Psychiatry 42 (2): 241–51. doi:10.1111/1469-7610.00715. PMID 11280420.
- "Awardees". Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Autismus-Spektrum (WGAS). Retrieved 2013-12-18.
- "Seven Cambridge academics elected as Fellows of The British Academy". Cambridge University. 2009-07-17. Retrieved 2013-12-27.
- "ARC people: Professor Simon Baron-Cohen". Autism Research Center, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- "ARC researchers, collaborators and staff". Autism Research Center, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- Bishop DV (January 2008). "Forty years on: Uta Frith's contribution to research on autism and dyslexia, 1966–2006". Q J Exp Psychol (Hove) 61 (1): 16–26. doi:10.1080/17470210701508665. PMC 2409181. PMID 18038335.
- "Time Out with Nick Cohen". New Statesman. 2007-02-26. Retrieved 2010-11-01.
- Szalavitz, Maia (2011-05-30). "Q&A: Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen on empathy and the science of evil". Time Magazine. Retrieved 2014-01-02.
- Saxe, Rebecca (2008-05-09). "1985 paper on the theory of mind". SFARI: Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- Carpenter, Siri (March 2001). Everyday fantasia: The world of synesthesia 32 (3). American Psychological Association.
- Briggs, Helen (2013-11-19). "Study links synaesthesia to autism". BBC News. Retrieved 2014-01-02.
- Warner, Judith (2011-08-29). "Autism's lone wolf". Time. Retrieved 2013-12-28.(subscription required)
- Baron-Cohen, Simon (2012-11-09). "Are geeky couples more likely to have kids with autism?". Scientific American. Retrieved 2013-12-28.(subscription required)
- Benenson JF (2003). "Sex on the brain". Nature 424 (6945): 132. doi:10.1038/424132b.
- Buchen, Lizzie (November 2011). "Scientists and autism: When geeks meet". Nature 479 (7371): 25–7. doi:10.1038/479025a. PMID 22051657.
- Woodbury-Smith MR, Robinson J, Wheelwright S, Baron-Cohen S (June 2005). "Screening adults for Asperger Syndrome using the AQ: a preliminary study of its diagnostic validity in clinical practice" (PDF). J Autism Dev Disord 35 (3): 331–5. doi:10.1007/s10803-005-3300-7. PMID 16119474. Retrieved 2014-01-03.
- "Mind Reading: Frequently Asked Questions: Who developed it?". Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- "BAFTA Awards: Interactive: Offline Learning in 2002". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 2014-01-03.
- "BAFTA Awards: Children's: Learning - Primary in 2007". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 2014-01-03.
- "Chartered Psychologist emphasises the importance of empathy". The British Psychological Society. 2011-04-28. Retrieved 2014-01-02.
- "Reflecting on a lifetime of achievement: Uta Frith". Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- "Vice presidents". National Autistic Society. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- "Autism: recognition, referral, diagnosis and management of adults on the autism spectrum". National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- "Molecular Autism: brain, cognition and behavior". BioMed Central Ltd. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- "Spearman medal". The British Psychological Society: History of Psychology Centre. Retrieved 2013-12-31.
- "Boyd McCandless Award: Past recipients: 1990". American Psychological Association. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- "Previous winners: May Davidson Award". The British Psychological Society. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- "Presidents' Award for distinguished contributions to psychological knowledge". The British Psychological Society: History of Psychology Centre. Retrieved 2013-12-31.
- Heffernan, Virginia (2005-02-23). "A savant aided by the sparks that he sees inside his head". New York Times. Retrieved 2014-01-02.
- "Profile: Gary McKinnon". BBC News. 2012-12-14. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- "Private Passions". BBC. 2008-04-13. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- "Simon Baron-Cohen: The erosion of empathy". TED Conferences LLC. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- Steadman, Ian. "Watch Simon Baron-Cohen's full Wired 2012 talk about autism". Wired.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- "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
- "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 (5 April 2011)
- The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty, Simon Baron-Cohen (The Montréal Review, October, 2011)