Simon Baron-Cohen

Simon Baron-Cohen, PhD, MPhil is a 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. 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 major reconceptualization of typical psychological sex differences in terms of empathy and systemizing.

Education

Baron-Cohen earned degrees in Human Sciences from New College, Oxford, a PhD in Psychology from University College London, and an Master of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry.

Research areas

Baron-Cohen's first research paper on autism was published in 1985, with Uta Frith and Alan Leslie.[1] It proposed that children with autism show social and communication difficulties as a result of a delay in the development of a theory of mind. Tested using the false belief experiment, this result has been replicated innumerable times.

In his 1995 book Mindblindness (MIT Press), he suggested that an individual's theory of mind depends on a set of brain mechanisms that develop in early childhood, including the eye direction detector (EDD), the shared attention mechanism (SAM), and the intentionality detector (ID). Baron-Cohen singled out SAM as a key precursor to theory of mind, giving rise to the first early screening test for autism, the CHAT (Checklist for Autism in Toddlers).[2] This quick test is used at 18 months old to check if the child is showing behaviours such as pointing and gaze following as examples of shared (or joint) attention. Absence or delays in joint attention is one marker of risk for a later diagnosis of autism. The CHAT remains the only screening instrument for autism in infancy that has been tested at a population level, and a revised version of the instrument is under evaluation to detect Asperger Syndrome too.

In 1994, with his colleague Howard Ring, he published the first evidence that theory of mind relied on the orbito-frontal cortex, and in 1999 they published further evidence that theory of mind was also strongly dependent on the amygdala, a key region in the brain involved in decoding and responding to others' actions and mental states. These studies also demonstrated that in autism there is under-activity in these regions, while the person is thinking about other minds.

His later theory, outlined in his 2003 book "The Essential Difference" (Penguin/Basic Books), was the first serious attempt to link the fields of typical sex differences in psychology with the field of autism. He proposed that on average, females develop faster in empathy and on average males develop faster in systemizing. People with autism, he argued, show an extreme of the typical male profile in having a disability in empathy alongside intact or even superior systemizing. Much of the empirical work testing this theory was in collaboration with his colleague Sally Wheelwright (See also EQ SQ Theory.)

In a major program of research, summarized in his 2005 book "Prenatal Testosterone in Mind" (MIT Press), with his doctoral students Svetlana Lutchmaya, Rebecca Knickmeyer, Bonnie Auyeung, and Emma Chapman, he demonstrated that foetal testosterone (FT) levels (measured in the amniotic fluid) inversely predict social behaviour (e.g., eye contact at 12 months old), language development (e.g., vocabulary size at 24 months old), quality of social relationships at 4 years old, and empathy at 8 years old. FT levels also positively predict systemizing at 8 years old. A single biological mechanism (FT) thus appears to influence both empathy and systemizing, in opposite ways. He is currently testing if autism is associated with elevated FT. This link remains to be fully tested. (See also Sexual differentiation.)

His prenatal androgen (FT) theory of autism is not at odds with a genetic theory, and Baron-Cohen has argued that whilst people on the autistic spectrum are strong "systemizers" (showing a strong attraction to systems, and a drive to identify lawful or regular patterns within a system, as a way of understanding and predicting systems), so are their parents. His most recent idea is that autism may be the result of assortative mating of two strong systemizing parents. Evidence for this includes the finding that both mothers and fathers of children on the autistic spectrum have excellent attention to and memory for detail (as measured on the Embedded Figures Test), and that the grandfathers of children with autism, on both sides of the family, are more likely to have worked in the field of engineering (which demands good systemizing skills).

As a psychologist, Baron-Cohen's work has had far reaching influences in the fields of developmental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, primatology, philosophy of mind, as well as clinical psychology and psychiatry.In addition to basic research into the biomedical causes of autism, Baron-Cohen and his colleagues have produced practical tools for people with autism, including Mind Reading: An Interactive Guide to Human Emotions,[3] which is educational software for helping to improve emotion-recognition skills. More recently, his original ideas led to creation of The Transporters,[4] a children's animation series which superimposed real human faces showing emotions onto animated vehicles, as a way of harnessing the strong interest in systems (vehicles being an example of a system) that even preschoolers with autism show, to help make faces and emotional expressions more autism-friendly and predictable. The Transporters DVD, commissioned by Culture Online, part of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, was created by Catalyst Pictures, working alongside Culture Online, Baron-Cohen and researchers from Cambridge's Autism Research Centre[5].

Books

Simon Baron-Cohen has written five books, including Mindblindness (1995) and The Essential Difference: Men, Women, and the Extreme Male Brain (2003). He has edited three books, including Understanding Other Minds (1993), with a second edition in 2001. In addition to autism, Baron-Cohen is also one of the pioneers in the empirical study of synaesthesia, and has edited a book on it: Synaesthesia: Classic and contemporary readings (1997).

Family

Simon Baron-Cohen is a first cousin of Sacha Baron Cohen[6], the actor and comedian famous for his characters Borat and Ali G. His maternal grandfather's brother was Robert Greenblatt, professor of endocrinology at the Medical College of Georgia, whose research led to the development of the oral contraceptive pill. [7]

See also

References

1. ^ Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A., & Frith, U. (1985). Does the autistic child have a 'theory of mind'? Cognition, 21, 37-46.
2. ^ [1]
3. ^ [2]
4. ^ [3]
5. ^ [4]
6. ^ IMDB biography page for Sacha Baron Cohen
7. ^ Robert B. Greenblatt (1906-1987)

External links

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"Ph.D." redirects here, for other uses see Ph.D. (disambiguation).


Doctor of Philosophy, abbreviated Ph.D.
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Psychopathology is a term which refers to either the study of mental illness or mental distress, or the manifestation of behaviors and experiences which may be indicative of mental illness or psychological impairment.
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Psychiatry is a branch of medicine which exists to study, prevent, and treat mental disorders in humans.[1][2][3] The art and science of the clinical application of psychiatry has been considered a bridge between the social world and those who are
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Experimental psychology approaches psychology as one of the natural sciences, and therefore assumes that it is susceptible to the experimental method. Many experimental psychologists have gone further, and have assumed that all methods of investigation other than
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Trinity College

                     
College name The College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity
Motto Virtus Vera Nobilitas
(Latin: Virtue is true nobility)
Named after
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University of Cambridge (often Cambridge University), located in Cambridge, England, is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world and has a reputation as one of the world's most prestigious universities.
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Motto
"Dieu et mon droit" [2]   (French)
"God and my right"
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Autism
Classification & external resources

Obsessively stacking or lining up objects may indicate autism.
ICD-10 F 84.0
ICD-9 299.0

OMIM 209850
DiseasesDB 1142
MedlinePlus 001526
eMedicine med/3202   ped/180
MeSH D001321
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The phrase theory of mind (often abbreviated as ToM) is used in several related ways:
  • general categories of theories of mind - theories about the nature of 'mind', and its structure and processes;
  • theories of mind related to individual minds;

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Empathy (from the Greek εμπάθεια, "physical affection, partiality") is commonly defined as one's ability to recognize, perceive and feel directly the emotion of another.
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Categorization is the process in which ideas and objects are recognized, differentiated and understood. Categorization implies that objects are grouped into categories, usually for some specific purpose.
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Human science (also, moral science and human sciences as typical in the UK) is a term applied to the investigation of human life and activities by a rational, systematic and verifiable methodology that acknowledges the validity of both data derived by impartial
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New College, Oxford.]]

New College is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Its official name, College of St Mary
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Psychology (from Greek: Literally "talk about the soul" (from logos)) is both an academic and applied discipline involving the scientific study of mental processes and behavior.
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University College London, commonly known as UCL, is the oldest multi-faculty constituent college of the University of London, one of the two original founding colleges, and the first British University to be founded on a non-religious basis.
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Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) is a research degree, requiring the completion of a thesis. It is a lesser degree than the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), greater than (or sometimes equal to) the Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil,) and in some instances may be awarded as a substitute for a
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The Institute of Psychiatry (IOP) is a research institution dedicated to discovering what causes mental health problems and diseases of the brain. In addition, its aim is to help identify new treatments for them and ways to prevent them in the first place.
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Autism
Classification & external resources

Obsessively stacking or lining up objects may indicate autism.
ICD-10 F 84.0
ICD-9 299.0

OMIM 209850
DiseasesDB 1142
MedlinePlus 001526
eMedicine med/3202   ped/180
MeSH D001321
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Uta Frith (b. May 25, 1941) is a leading developmental psychologist working at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London. She has published many papers on autism and dyslexia, as well as several books.
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Alan M. Leslie is a Scottish psychologist and a professor of cognitive psychology at Rutgers University.

Education

Leslie completed his undergraduate degree from the University of Edinburgh and his Ph.D from the University of Oxford in 1979/80.
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The phrase theory of mind (often abbreviated as ToM) is used in several related ways:
  • general categories of theories of mind - theories about the nature of 'mind', and its structure and processes;
  • theories of mind related to individual minds;

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amygdalae (Latin, also corpus amygdaloideum, singular amygdala, from Greek
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Empathizers who are able to identify and appropriately respond to the emotions and thoughts of others. Empathizers tend to be adept at reading non-verbal communication and judging character.
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Testosterone is a steroid hormone from the androgen group. Testosterone is primarily secreted in the testes of males and the ovaries of females, although small amounts are also secreted by the adrenal glands. It is the principal male sex hormone and an anabolic steroid.
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Sexual differentiation is the process of development of the differences between males and females from an undifferentiated zygote (fertilized egg). As male and female individuals develop from zygotes into fetuses, into infants, children, adolescents, and eventually into adults, sex
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Assortative mating (also called assortative pairing) takes place when sexually reproducing organisms tend to mate with individuals that are like themselves in some respect (positive assortative mating) or dissimilar (negative assortative mating).
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Developmental psychology, also known as Human Development, is the scientific study of progressive psychological changes that occur in human beings as they age. Originally concerned with infants and children, and later other periods of great change such as adolescence and
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Cognitive neuroscience is an academic field concerned with the scientific study of biological mechanisms underlying cognition, with a specific focus on the neural substrates of mental processes and their behavioral manifestations.
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Primatology is the study of primates. It is a diverse discipline and primatologists can be found in departments of biology, anthropology, psychology and many others.
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Philosophy of mind is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of the mind, mental events, mental functions, mental properties, consciousness and their relationship to the physical body. The mind-body problem, i.e.
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