Simon Baron-Cohen

Simon Baron-Cohen

Baron-Cohen in 2011
Born (1958-08-15) 15 August 1958
Residence England
Nationality British
Fields Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience
Institutions University of Cambridge
Alma mater
Thesis Social cognition and pretend-play in autism (1985)
Doctoral advisor Uta Frith
Known for Autism research
Notable awards Kanner-Asperger Medal 2013 (WGAS)[1]

Simon Baron-Cohen FBA[2] (born 15 August 1958) is Professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.[3] He is the Director of the University's Autism Research Centre,[4] and a Fellow of Trinity College.[3] He has worked on autism, including the hypothesis that autism involves degrees of mind-blindness (or delays in the development of theory of mind) and his later hypothesis that autism is an extreme form of what he calls the "male brain", which involved a re-conceptualization of typical psychological sex differences in terms of empathising-systemising theory.

Personal life and education

Baron-Cohen in 2011

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;[3] his doctoral research was in collaboration with his supervisor Uta Frith.[5]

Baron-Cohen has three children, the eldest of whom is screenwriter and director Sam Baron.[6] He has an older brother Dan Baron Cohen and three younger siblings, brother Ash Baron-Cohen and sisters Suzie and Liz.[7] Their cousin is the actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.[8][9] Baron-Cohen's surname includes a hyphen—which is not the case with other members of his family—because of a typographical error in his first professional article; he never had the error corrected.[10]

Autism research

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.[11] 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.[11]

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.[12] His team has investigated whether synaesthesia is connected to autism.[13]

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.[6][14] He postulates that more individuals with autistic traits are marrying each other and having children.[6] 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."[14] 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".[6] 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.[6]

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;[14] his theory is known as the "extreme male brain" theory of autism.[9] 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".[15] Critics say that because his work has focused on higher-functioning individuals with autism spectrum disorders, it requires independent replication with broader samples.[16] 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'."[16]

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.[17] 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.[16] Psychologist Uta Frith agrees, and notes that "rigorous studies are still missing".[16]

Baron-Cohen developed the Mindreading software for special education,[18] which was nominated for an award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) interactive award in 2002.[19] 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.[6][20]


Cordelia Fine in her book Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference (2010), used Baron-Cohen's views on the systematic (male) brain and empathetic (female) brain and how they affect behavior and accomplishments as an example of "neurosexism" that mistakes cultural influences for biologically-determined destiny and found parallels between his views and typical 19th century views of women; she also criticized some of the experimental work that Baron-Cohen claims supports his views as being methodologically flawed.[21]:Xviii-xx[22]


Baron-Cohen is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS),[23] the British Academy,[2] and the Association for Psychological Science.[24] He is a BPS Chartered Psychologist.[23]

He serves as Vice-President of the National Autistic Society (UK),[25] and was the 2012 Chairman of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Guideline Development Group for adults with autism.[26] He has served as Vice-President of the International Society for Autism Research (INSAR).[3] He is co-editor in chief of the journal Molecular Autism.[27]


Baron-Cohen was awarded the 1990 Spearman Medal from the BPS,[28] the McAndless Award from the American Psychological Association,[29] the 1993 May Davidson Award for Clinical Psychology from the BPS,[30] and the 2006 presidents' Award from the BPS.[31] 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.[1]

Media appearances

In 2005, Baron-Cohen appeared in the 2005 Science Channel documentary Brainman about Daniel Tammet.[32]

In 2010, Harald Eia published the TV series Hjernevask in which Baron-Cohen appeared during two episodes about gender differences in new-born children.[33]

Selected publications

Single-authored books

Other books

Selected journal articles

See also


  1. 1 2 "Awardees". Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Autismus-Spektrum (WGAS). Retrieved 18 December 2013.
  2. 1 2 "Seven Cambridge academics elected as Fellows of The British Academy". Cambridge University. 17 July 2009. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "ARC people: Professor Simon Baron-Cohen". Autism Research Center, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  4. "ARC researchers, collaborators and staff". Autism Research Center, University of Cambridge. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  5. 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 2409181Freely accessible. PMID 18038335.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Warner, Judith (29 August 2011). "Autism's lone wolf". Time. Retrieved 28 December 2013.(subscription required)
  7. "Simon Baron-Cohen: My special sister Suzie". The Jewish Chronicle. 17 April 2014.
  8. "Time Out with Nick Cohen". New Statesman. 26 February 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2010.
  9. 1 2 Szalavitz, Maia (30 May 2011). "Q&A: Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen on empathy and the science of evil". Time. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  10. The Provocative Baron Cohen Clan - Page 7 of 9 - Moment Magazine. (25 November 2015). Retrieved on 2016-05-14.
  11. 1 2 Saxe, Rebecca (9 May 2008). "1985 paper on the theory of mind". SFARI: Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  12. Carpenter, Siri (March 2001). "Everyday fantasia: The world of synesthesia". 32 (3). American Psychological Association.
  13. 1 2 3 Baron-Cohen, Simon (9 November 2012). "Are geeky couples more likely to have kids with autism?". Scientific American. Retrieved 28 December 2013.(subscription required)
  14. Benenson JF (2003). "Sex on the brain". Nature. 424 (6945): 132–133. doi:10.1038/424132b.
  15. 1 2 3 4 Buchen, Lizzie (November 2011). "Scientists and autism: When geeks meet". Nature. 479 (7371): 25–7. doi:10.1038/479025a. PMID 22051657.
  16. 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 3 January 2014.
  17. "Mind Reading: Frequently Asked Questions: Who developed it?". Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  18. "BAFTA Awards: Interactive: Offline Learning in 2002". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  19. "BAFTA Awards: Children's: Learning – Primary in 2007". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  20. Delusions of Gender. W. W. Norton, 30 August 2010. ISBN 0-393-06838-2
  21. Halpern, D. F. (2010). "How Neuromythologies Support Sex Role Stereotypes". Science. 330 (6009): 1320–1321. doi:10.1126/science.1198057. ISSN 0036-8075.
  22. 1 2 "Chartered Psychologist emphasises the importance of empathy". The British Psychological Society. 28 April 2011. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  23. "Reflecting on a lifetime of achievement: Uta Frith". Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  24. "Vice presidents". National Autistic Society. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  25. "Autism: recognition, referral, diagnosis and management of adults on the autism spectrum". National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  26. "Molecular Autism: brain, cognition and behavior". BioMed Central Ltd. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  27. "Spearman medal". The British Psychological Society: History of Psychology Centre. Retrieved 31 December 2013.
  28. "Boyd McCandless Award: Past recipients: 1990". American Psychological Association. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  29. "Previous winners: May Davidson Award". The British Psychological Society. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  30. "Presidents' Award for distinguished contributions to psychological knowledge". The British Psychological Society: History of Psychology Centre. Retrieved 31 December 2013.
  31. Heffernan, Virginia (23 February 2005). "A savant aided by the sparks that he sees inside his head". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  32. IMDB. "Hjernevask (Brainwash)". IMDB. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
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