Baron-Cohen in 2011
|Born||15 August 1958|
|Known for||Autism research|
(m. 1987; died 2016)
|Awards||Kanner-Asperger Medal (2013)|
|Institutions||University of Cambridge|
|Thesis||Social Cognition and Pretend-Play in Autism (1985)|
|Doctoral advisor||Uta Frith|
Simon Baron-Cohen FBA FBPsS (born 15 August 1958) is a British clinical psychologist and professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge. He is the Director of the University's Autism Research Centre and a Fellow of Trinity College. In 1985, Baron-Cohen formulated the mind-blindness theory of autism, the evidence for which he collated and published in 1995. In 1997, he formulated the fetal sex steroid theory of autism, the key test of which was published in 2015. He has also made major contributions to the fields of typical cognitive sex differences, autism prevalence and screening, autism genetics, autism neuroimaging, autism and technical ability, and synaesthesia. However, his views on autism and sex differences, such as the fetal sex steroid theory, are controversial, some critics asserting that Baron-Cohen's theories are based on subjective perceptions.
Personal life and education
Baron-Cohen was born into a middle-class Jewish family in London. He completed a BA degree in Human Sciences at New College, Oxford, and an MPhil degree in Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London. He received a PhD degree in Psychology at University College London; his doctoral research was in collaboration with his supervisor Uta Frith.
Baron-Cohen has three children, the eldest of whom is screenwriter and director Sam Baron. He has an elder brother Dan Baron Cohen and three younger siblings, brother Ash Baron-Cohen and sisters Suzie and Liz. Their cousins are the actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen and the composer Erran Baron Cohen. Simon Baron-Cohen's surname, in contrast to that of most of his family, includes a hyphen; this arose from a typographical error which he never corrected in the printing of his first professional article.
While a member of the Cognitive Development Unit (CDU) in London in 1985, Baron-Cohen was lead author (with Alan M. Leslie and Uta Frith) of the first study proposing a correlation between children with autism and delays in the development of a theory of mind ("ToM"). A theory of mind is the ability to imagine 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 empathising–systemising theory. His theory is that a cognitive profile with a systemising drive that is stronger than empathising is associated with maths, science and technology skills, and 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."
Baron-Cohen's work in systemising-empathising led him to investigate whether higher levels of fetal 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".
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. The AQ has subsequently been used in hundreds of studies including one study of half a million people, showing robust sex differences and higher scores in those who work in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).
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.
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Baron-Cohen has been criticized for his "empathizing-systemizing theory", which claims that humans may be classified on the basis of their scores along two dimensions (empathizing and systemizing); and that females tend to score higher on the empathizing dimension and males tend to score higher on the systemizing dimension. Columnist at The Guardian Madeleine Bunting has summarized some of these aspects in the 2010 article "The truth about sex difference is that if men are from Mars, so are women".
Some research in systemizing and empathizing in early life seems to indicate that boys and girls develop in similar ways, casting considerable doubt on the theory of sex differences in these areas, but the findings have not been replicated. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences characterized The Essential Difference 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". According to Time magazine, 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.
The extreme male brain theory has been criticized on several grounds. Some critics claim that the tests behind this theory are based on gender stereotypes, and not on hard science. Professor Catherine Lord of UCLA says the theory is based on "gross misinterpretations" of developmental data. Professor David Skuse of University College London claimed that communication differences between genders are likely to be small. Meng-Chuan Lai, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Toronto, says the results have not been replicated.
Time magazine has also criticized the assortative mating theory proposed by Baron-Cohen, claiming that it is largely speculative and based on anecdotal evidence. The theory claims that autism rates are increasing because "systemizers", individuals with more autistic traits, are more likely to marry each other and are more likely to have autistic offspring due to relatively recent societal changes. James McGrath has criticized the autism-spectrum quotient, writing that the score increases if one indicates interest in mathematics, and decreases if one indicates interest in literature or art. He claims that this leads to the false notion that most autistic people are strong in math. Critics also say that because his work has focused on higher-functioning individuals with autism spectrum disorders, it requires independent replication with broader samples and that his theories are based on subjective perceptions. However, one study confirmed his prediction that prenatal testosterone is elevated in autism.
A 2009 study led by Baron-Cohen which reported that autistic individuals possessed superior visual acuity has been subject to heavy criticism. The developers of the software he used said that his results were impossible based on the technology used in the study. Additionally, the results of the study could not be replicated in a follow-up study.
Baron-Cohen's supposition that Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein displayed autistic traits has been met with scepticism by UCSF psychiatrist Glenn Elliot. Elliot views attempting to diagnose on the basis of biographical information as extremely unreliable, and claims that any behaviour can have various causes. Baron-Cohen responded by claiming that he wanted to find niches for autistic people in society where they could use potential strengths, stating that “This condition can make people depressed or suicidal.”
Writing for the Autism Society of America, Jill Escher has criticized Simon Baron-Cohen's support for neurodiversity, claiming that many autistic people lack basic life skills and will need lifelong care because of autism, not because of comorbid conditions. In August 2018 Baron-Cohen criticized the Twitter hashtag #EndAutismNow, describing it as hate speech and eugenics, while comparing it to the goals of the Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan. Jonathan Ferguson, writing in The Times of Israel, responded that it is inappropriate for Baron-Cohen to compare advocates for an autism cure to the Nazi Party or the Ku Klux Klan.
Aiyana Bailin in a Scientific American blog claimed that Baron-Cohen did not acknowledge that neurodiversity also views autism as a disability through the social model of disability. However, Baron-Cohen tweeted that he agreed with her analysis. Responding to the same article, Yuval Levental in another Scientific American blog disagreed with Baron-Cohen's support for neurodiversity, claiming that the difficulties outweighed the benefits of autism to the point where autism shouldn't define a person's identity.
His theories have been described by psychologist Cordelia Fine as "neurosexism". The 2017 book Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story by Angela Saini develops a "take-down" of the sex differences research from Baron-Cohen and his colleagues, who carry on Darwin's "idea that man and woman...evolved to meet their roles of hunter and gatherer, respectively."
In response to those criticisms, Baron-Cohen agrees that many of his results have not been replicated. However, he claims that many of his theories are based on various preliminary testable evidence.
Baron-Cohen 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 serves as Vice-President of the National Autistic Society (UK), and was the 2012 Chairman 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. He is President-Elect of INSAR.
He is the Chair of the Psychology Section of the British Academy.
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.
- 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, eds. (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, Simon (April 2007). "The evolution of empathizing and systemizing: assortative mating of two strong systemizers and the cause of autism". In Barrett, Louise; Dunbar, Robin (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780198568308.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19856-830-8.
- 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, eds. (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, eds. (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 978-0-86377-460-7.
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.
- Childhood Autism Spectrum Test
- Sally–Anne test
- The NeuroGenderings Network § Sex differences in human neonatal social perception
- "Simon Baron-Cohen - The Science of Evil". Little, Brown Book Group. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
- "Awardees". Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Autismus-Spektrum (WGAS). Retrieved 18 December 2013.
- "The Provocative Baron Cohen Clan | Page 7 of 9". Moment Magazine - The Next 5,000 Years of Conversation Begin Here. 7 October 2011. Retrieved 11 June 2019.
- "Simon Baron-Cohen: Ali G's smarter cousin and Britain's leading expert". The Independent. 23 May 2009. Retrieved 11 June 2019.
- Baron-Cohen, Simon. "My special sister Suzie". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 11 June 2019.
- "ARC people: Professor Simon Baron-Cohen". Autism Research Center, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- Bishop, Dorothy V. M. (January 2008). "Forty years on: Uta Frith's contribution to research on autism and dyslexia, 1966–2006". Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology (Hove). 61 (1): 16–26. doi:10.1080/17470210701508665. PMC 2409181. PMID 18038335.
- "Obituary: Bridget Lindley OBE". Family Law. 26 April 2016. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
- "Obituary: Bridget Lindley". The Times. 22 April 2016.
- Warner, Judith (29 August 2011). "Autism's lone wolf". Time. Retrieved 28 December 2013.(subscription required)
- "Time Out with Nick Cohen". New Statesman. 26 February 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2010.
- Szalavitz, Maia (30 May 2011). "Q&A: Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen on empathy and the science of evil". Time. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
- Glazer, Sarah (7 October 2011). "The Provocative Baron Cohen Clan - Page 7 of 9". Moment. Retrieved 14 May 2016.
- Baron-Cohen, Simon; Leslie, Alan M.; Frith, Uta (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.
- Saxe, Rebecca (9 May 2008). "1985 paper on the theory of mind". SFARI. Archived from the original on 29 December 2013. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- Carpenter, Siri (March 2001). "Everyday fantasia: The world of synesthesia". 32 (3). American Psychological Association.
- Briggs, Helen (19 November 2013). "Study links synaesthesia to autism". BBC News. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
- Baron-Cohen, Simon (9 November 2012). "Are geeky couples more likely to have kids with autism?". Scientific American. Retrieved 14 April 2018.(subscription required) Pdf. Now in Editors, Scientific American (18 March 2013). "Chapter 4.4. Autism and the Technical Mind". In Scientific American (eds.). Understanding Autism. The Search for Answers. ISBN 978-1-4668-3385-2.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
- Benenson, Joyce F. (2003). "Sex on the brain". Nature. 424 (6945): 132–133. doi:10.1038/424132b.
- 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). Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 35 (3): 331–5. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.653.8639. doi:10.1007/s10803-005-3300-7. PMID 16119474.
- "Study of half a million people reveals sex and job predict how many autistic traits you have". University of Cambridge. 3 November 2015. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
- "Mind Reading: Frequently Asked Questions: Who developed it?". Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Archived from the original on 28 December 2013. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- "BAFTA Awards: Interactive: Offline Learning in 2002". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
- "BAFTA Awards: Children's: Learning – Primary in 2007". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
- Bunting, Madeleine (14 November 2010). "The truth about sex difference is that if men are from Mars, so are women". The Guardian. Kings Place, London: Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
- Nash, Alison; Grossi, Giordana (2007). "Picking Barbie™'s Brain: Inherent Sex Differences in Scientific Ability?". Journal of Interdisciplinary Feminist Thought. 2 (1). Pdf.
- Levy, Neil (September 2004). "Book review: Understanding blindness". Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences. 3 (3): 315–324. doi:10.1023/B:PHEN.0000049328.20506.a1.
- Furfaro, Hannah (1 May 2019). "The extreme male brain, explained". Spectrum. Retrieved 8 May 2019.
- Melnick, Meredith. "Could the Way We Mate and Marry Boost Rates of Autism?". Time. Retrieved 14 January 2018.
- McGrath, James. "Not all autistic people are good at maths and science – despite the stereotypes". The Conversation. Retrieved 2 May 2019.
- Buchen, Lizzie (November 2011). "Scientists and autism: When geeks meet". Nature. 479 (7371): 25–7. doi:10.1038/479025a. PMID 22051657.
- Costandi, Moheb (9 May 2011). "Simon Baron-Cohen: Theorizing on the mind in autism". Spectrum. Retrieved 11 May 2019.
- "Children with autism have elevated levels of steroid hormones in the womb". University of Cambridge. 3 June 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
- Bach, Michael; Dakin, Steven C. (November 2009). "Regarding "Eagle-Eyed Visual Acuity: An Experimental Investigation of Enhanced Perception in Autism"". Biological Psychiatry. 66 (10): e19–e20. doi:10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.02.035. PMID 19576570.
- Bölte, Sven; Schlitt, Sabine; Gapp, Volker; Hainz, Daniela; Schirman, Shella; Poustka, Fritz; Weber, Bernhard; Freitag, Christine; Ciaramidaro, Angela; Walter, Henrik (10 June 2011). "A Close Eye on the Eagle-Eyed Visual Acuity Hypothesis of Autism". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 42 (5): 726–733. doi:10.1007/s10803-011-1300-3. PMC 3324676. PMID 21660498.
- Teresa, Tavassoli; Keziah, Latham; Mihael, Bach; Steven C., Dakin; Simon, Baron-Cohen (August 2011). "Psychophysical measures of visual acuity in autism spectrum conditions". Vision Research. 51 (15): 1778–80. doi:10.1016/j.visres.2011.06.004. PMC 6345362. PMID 21704058. Discussed in "Eagle-Eyed Autism? No". Neuroskeptic. 29 June 2011. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
- Muir, Hazel (30 April 2003). "Einstein and Newton showed signs of autism". New Scientist. Retrieved 4 November 2017.
- Escher, Jill. "The Decline and Fall of "Autism"". Autism Society San Francisco Bay Area. Retrieved 10 May 2019.
- Ferguson, Jonathan (13 September 2018). "Godwin in Cambridge! Autism Intellectual's 'Nazi' Comments Spark Almighty Uproar". The Times of Israel. Jerusalem. Retrieved 19 September 2018.
- Bailin, Aiyana. "Clearing Up Some Misconceptions about Neurodiversity". Scientific American. Retrieved 10 June 2019.
- @sbaroncohen (9 June 2019). "An excellent blog on Neurodiversity" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- Levental, Yuval. "The Neurodiversity Movement Should Acknowledge Autism as a Medical Disability". Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved 26 July 2019.
- Bouton, Katherine (23 August 2010). "'Delusions of Gender' Peels Away Popular Theories". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
- Davis, Nicola (6 June 2017). "Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong by Angela Saini – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 16 March 2018.
- Vaswani, Anjana (9 August 2017). "Fighting Science with Science". Ahmedabad Mirror. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
- Saini, Angela (2017). "Chapter 1. Woman's Inferiority to Man (pp. 13—28)". Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story. Boston: Beacon Press. ISBN 978-0-8070-7170-0.
- "ARC researchers, collaborators and staff". Autism Research Center, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- "Chartered Psychologist emphasises the importance of empathy". British Psychological Society. 28 April 2011. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
- "Seven Cambridge academics elected as Fellows of The British Academy". University of Cambridge. 17 July 2009. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
- "Reflecting on a lifetime of achievement: Uta Frith". Aps Observer. 26 (8). 30 September 2013. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- "Vice presidents". National Autistic Society. Archived from the original on 28 December 2013. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- "Autism: recognition, referral, diagnosis and management of adults on the autism spectrum". National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Archived from the original on 29 December 2013. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- "Molecular Autism. Editorial Board". Molecular Autism. BioMed Central Ltd. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 13 April 2016. Retrieved 17 December 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Professor Simon Baron-Cohen FBA". British Academy. Retrieved 16 November 2018.
- "Spearman medal". British Psychological Society: History of Psychology Centre. Archived from the original on 11 December 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
- "Boyd McCandless Award: Past recipients: 1990". American Psychological Association. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- "Previous winners: May Davidson Award". British Psychological Society. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
- "Presidents' Award for distinguished contributions to psychological knowledge". British Psychological Society: History of Psychology Centre. Archived from the original on 22 September 2013. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Simon Baron-Cohen.|
|Scholia has an author profile for Simon Baron-Cohen.|
- Profile – Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge
- "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 (9 November 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)
- Simon Baron-Cohen on IMDb