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Simon Baron-Cohen FBA[1] (born August 15, 1958) is Professor of Developmental Psychopathology in the Departments of Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology, a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Director of the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, in the United Kingdom.[2]. He is best known for his work on autism, including his early theory that autism involves degrees of "mindblindness" (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 reconceptualisation of typical psychological sex differences in terms of empathizing–systemizing theory.

Education[edit | edit source]

Baron-Cohen has an MA degree in Human Sciences from New College, Oxford. He has a PhD in Psychology from University College London under the supervision of Uta Frith and an M.Phil. in Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London.

Research areas[edit | edit source]

Baron-Cohen was a co-author of the first study to show that children with autism have delays in the development of a theory of mind (ToM) (Cognition, 1985)[3]. A ToM is held to be fundamental to being human, enabling flexible social interaction, communication and empathy.

Baron-Cohen’s research over the subsequent 10 years provided much of the evidence for the ToM deficit, culminating in two edited anthologies (Understanding Other Minds, 1993, and 2000). His research group have traced the origins of the ToM deficit backwards in development to joint attention (Brit J. Dev Psychol, 1987), and proposed a model of the development of ‘mindreading’ in his widely cited monograph (Mindblindness, 1995). He showed the application of the model to early diagnosis of autism at 18 months old, absence of joint attention being a key predictor of later autism (Brit. J. Psychiatry, 1992, 1996).[4] And he was the first to demonstrate the role of two brain regions involved in ToM: the orbito-frontal cortex (Brit. J. Psychiatry, 1994) and the amygdala (Euro. J. Neuroscience, 1999), the latter leading him to propose the amygdala theory of autism (Neurosci. Behav. Rev. 2000).

In the late 1990’s Baron-Cohen's hypotheses highlighted 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 proposes 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, 2003).

Baron-Cohen launched the Cambridge Longitudinal Foetal Testosterone (FT) Project, 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 is summarized in a technical monograph (Prenatal Testosterone in Mind, 2004). This analysis showed 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). The role of fetal testosterone in autism remains to be assessed in clinical cases, but gains some support from the recent discovery from Baron-Cohen's lab of androgen-related genes being associated with autistic traits, empathy, and Asperger Syndrome (Autism Research, 2009).

Baron-Cohen has developed software for special education (Mindreading)[5] and a children’s animation (The Transporters)[6] 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 a different 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). Further work confirmed the existence of synaesthesia using neuroimaging (Brain, 1995) and that it is a heritable condition (Perception, 1996; American Journal of Human Genetics, 2009).

Media[edit | edit source]

Baron-Cohen has had media interviews over 25 years mostly in relation to his work in the field of autism. He appeared on Private Passions, on April 13 2008, the biographical music discussion programme hosted by Michael Berkeley on BBC Radio 3.[7]

Baron-Cohen was interviewed on BBC radio 4 and was featured on the BBC news page calling for an ethical debate on the issue of a prenatal test for autism, arguing it is important to debate this in advance of such a test existing, given the pace of biomedical research in autism. [8] 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.[9] He has found the media largely report his work accurately but on two occasions his work has been misrepresented by the media. As a result, in March 2009, he wrote a comprehensive piece in New Scientist on the misrepresentation over his group's research into fetal testosterone in typically developing children. [10]

He has appeared in many television science documentaries, most recently Brainman in which he diagnosed Daniel Tammet (who has extreme memory) with both synaesthesia and Asperger Syndrome.

In 2008 Baron-Cohen examined 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. McKinnon's lawyers used this diagnosis in their appeal against his extradition to the U.S., but the British High Court nonetheless ruled that McKinnon should be extradited to the U.S. to face trial.

Personal life and Awards[edit | edit source]

Simon 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 is Vice President of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR) for 2009. 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.

Simon Baron-Cohen is the son of Judith and Vivian Baron-Cohen. Judith's father was Michael Greenblatt, brother to Robert Greenblatt who was professor of endocrinology at the Medical College of Georgia, whose research led to the development of the oral contraceptive pill.[11] Baron-Cohen's maternal grandmother emigrated from Minsk in the 1890s, to escape the pogroms[12].

Simon Baron-Cohen is married to Bridget Lindley[13] and together they have three children, including independent film maker Sam Baron and songwriter Kate Baron[14]. His brothers are film director Ash Baron Cohen and Dan Baron Cohen (International Drama and Education Association). His sisters include acupuncturist Aliza Baron Cohen. His cousins include computer scientist Amnon Baron Cohen, composer and musician Erran Baron Cohen, comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen[15], composer Lewis Furey, film producer Daniel Louis, playwright Richard Greenblatt, University of Washington chemistry professor Seymour Rabinovitch, and film-director Mark Robson.

Selected publications[edit | edit source]

Books[edit | edit source]

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.
  • Baron-Cohen, S (2008) Autism and Asperger Syndrome: The Facts. OUP.

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: essays in evolutionary psychopathology. Erlbaum, Taylor Francis, UK.
  • 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.
  • Hadwin, J, Howlin, P, & Baron-Cohen, S, (2008) Teaching children with autism to mindread: a handbook. Wiley.

Papers[edit | edit source]

Baron-Cohen has authored over 250 peer-reviewed papers, including:

  • Baron-Cohen, S, Leslie, A.M., & Frith, U, (1985) Does the autistic child have a “theory of mind?” Cognition, 21, 37-46.
  • Baron-Cohen, S, Wyke, M, & Binnie, C, (1987) Hearing words and seeing colours: an experimental investigation of a case of synaesthesia. Perception, 16, 761-67.
  • Baron-Cohen, S, Allen, J, & Gillberg, C, (1992) Can autism be detected at 18 months? The needle, the haystack, and the CHAT. British Journal of Psychiatry, 161, 839-843.
  • Baron-Cohen, S, (1994) How to build a baby that can read minds: Cognitive mechanisms in mindreading. Cahiers de Psychologie Cognitive/ Current Psychology of Cognition, 13, 513-552.
  • Baron-Cohen, S, Ring, H, Moriarty, J, Shmitz, P, Costa, D, & Ell, P, (1994) Recognition of mental state terms: a clinical study of autism, and a functional neuroimaging study of normal adults. British Journal of Psychiatry, 165, 640-649.
  • Baron-Cohen, S, Cox, A, Baird, G, Swettenham, J, Drew, A, Nightingale, N, Morgan, K, & Charman, T, (1996) Psychological markers of autism at 18 months of age in a large population. British Journal of Psychiatry, 168, 158-163.
  • Baron-Cohen, S, Jolliffe, T, Mortimore, C, & Robertson, M (1997) Another advanced test of theory of mind: evidence from very high functioning adults with autism or Asperger Syndrome. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 38, 813-822.
  • Baron-Cohen, S, Wheelwright, S, Stott, C, Bolton, P, & Goodyer, I, (1997) Is there a link between engineering and autism? Autism, 1, 101-108.
  • Baron-Cohen, S, Ring, H, Wheelwright, S, Bullmore, E, Brammer, M, Simmons, A, & Williams, S, (1999) Social intelligence in the normal and autistic brain: an fMRI study. European Journal of Neuroscience, 11, 1891-1898.
  • Baron-Cohen, S, Ring, H, Bullmore, E, Wheelwright, S, Ashwin, C, & Williams, S, (2000) The amygdala theory of autism. Neuroscience and Behavioural Reviews, 24, 355-364.
  • Connellan, J, Baron-Cohen, S, Wheelwright, S, Ba’tki, A, & Ahluwalia, J, (2000) Sex differences in human neonatal social perception. Infant Behavior and Development, 23, 113-118.
  • Baron-Cohen, S, & Wheelwright, S, Skinner, R, Martin, J, & Clubley, E, (2001) The Autism-Spectrum Quotient: Evidence from Asperger Syndrome/high-functioning autism, males and females, scientists, and mathematicians. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 5-17.
  • Baron-Cohen, S, (2002) The extreme male brain theory of autism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6, 248-254.
  • Lutchmaya, S, Baron-Cohen, S, & Raggatt, P, (2002) Foetal testosterone and eye contact in 12-month-old infants. Infant Behaviour and Development, 25, 327-335.
  • Nunn, J, Gregory, L, Morris, R, Brammer, M, Bullmore, E, Harrison, J, Williams, S, Baron-Cohen, S, and Gray, J, (2002) Functional magnetic resonance imaging of synaesthesia: activation of colour vision area V4/V8 by spoken words. Nature Neuroscience, 5, 371-375.
  • Baron-Cohen, S, & Wheelwright, S, (2004) The Empathy Quotient (EQ). An investigation of adults with Asperger Syndrome or High Functioning Autism, and normal sex differences. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34, 163-175.
  • Baron-Cohen, S, Knickmeyer, R, & Belmonte, M (2005) Sex differences in the brain: implications for explaining autism. Science, 310, 819-823.
  • Chapman, E, Baron-Cohen, S, Auyeung, B, Knickmeyer, R, Taylor, K & Hackett, G (2006) Foetal testosterone and empathy: evidence from the Empathy Quotient (EQ) and the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ Test’. Social Neuroscience, 1, 135-148.
  • Auyeung, B, Baron-Cohen, S, Chapman, E, Knickmeyer, R, Taylor, K & Hackett, G, (2008) Foetal testosterone and autistic traits. British Journal of Psychology On-line
  • Baron-Cohen, S, Scott, F, J, Allison, C, Williams, J, Bolton, P, Matthews, F, E, & Brayne, C, (2009) Autism Spectrum Prevalence: a school-based U.K. population study. British Journal of Psychiatry, On-line
  • Chakrabarti, B, Dudridge, F, Kent, L, Wheelwright, S, Hill-Cawthorne, G, Allison, C, Banerjee-Basu, S, & Baron-Cohen, S, (2009) Genes related to sex-steroids, neural growth and social-emotional behaviour are associated with autistic traits, empathy and Asperger Syndrome. Autism Research, online.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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