Uta Frith

Uta Frith

Frith at the Royal Society, 2012
Born Uta Aurnhammer
(1941-05-25) 25 May 1941
Rockenhausen, Germany
Residence UK
Citizenship Germany
Institutions University College London (Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience)
Alma mater Universität des Saarlandes
University of London (Institute of Psychiatry)
Thesis Pattern detection in normal and autistic children (1968)
Doctoral advisor Neil O'Connor[1][2]
Doctoral students Simon Baron-Cohen
Tony Attwood
Margaret J. Snowling
Francesca Happé
Ami Klin
Notable awards FRS
Spouse Chris Frith
  • Alex Frith[3]
  • Martin C. Frith[4]
Uta Frith's voice
from the BBC programme The Life Scientific, 6 December 2011.[5]

Uta Frith, DBE (Hon), FRS,[6] FBA, FMedSci (née Aurnhammer; born 25 May 1941) is a German developmental psychologist working at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London. She has pioneered much of the current research in autism[7][8][9][10][11] and dyslexia,[12][13] and has written several books on these issues.[3][14]

Her book Autism: Explaining the Enigma[15][16] provides an introduction to the cognitive neuroscience of autism. Among the students she has mentored are Tony Attwood,[17] Margaret Snowling,[18] Simon Baron-Cohen[19] and Francesca Happé.[20]


She was born Uta Aurnhammer in Rockenhausen. She completed her undergraduate degree in experimental psychology at Saarland University in Saarbrücken.[21] She trained in clinical psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London and went on to complete her Doctor of Philosophy, on pattern detection in normal and autistic children, in 1968.[22][23][24][25][26]

She was mentored, during her early career, by Neil O'Connor[1][2] and Beate Hermelin and has described them as pioneers in the field of autism.[27]


Frith's research[28] initiated the current representation of a theory of mind deficit in autism. Her 1985 Cognition paper Does the autistic child have a 'theory of mind?[29] proposed that people with autism have specific difficulties understanding other people's beliefs and desires. This study was conducted with Alan M. Leslie and Simon Baron-Cohen.

She was one of the first to study Asperger's syndrome in the UK and her work has focused on reading development, spelling and dyslexia.[21][25]

She has also suggested that individuals with autism have 'weak central coherence', and are better than typical individuals at processing details but worse at integrating information from many different sources.[30] Frith was one of the first neuroscientists to recognise "autism as a condition of the brain rather than the result of cold parenting."[31]

She has been supported through her career by the Medical Research Council at University College London.[32] Frith is an active collaborator at the Interacting Minds Centre[33] at Aarhus University in Denmark. The goal of the centre is to provide a transdisciplinary platform upon which the many aspects of human interaction may be studied. The project is based in part on her paper, with Chris Frith, Interacting Minds - a Biological Basis.[34]

Supporting women in science

Frith has advocated for the advancement of women in science, in part by developing a support network called Science & Shopping[35] which she hopes will "encourage women to share ideas and information that are inspiring and fun".[36] She also co-founded the UCL Women network, "a grassroots networking and social organization for academic staff (postdocs and above) in STEM at UCL", in January 2013.[37]

In the media

In December 2012, Frith appeared as a guest on BBC Two's Dara Ó Briain's Science Club.[38] On 1 March 2013 she was the guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.[39]

From 31 March to 4 April 2014, to coincide with World Autism Awareness Day on 2 April, she was the guest of Sarah Walker on BBC Radio 3's Essential Classics.[40] She featured in the documentary Living with Autism as part of the BBC's Horizon series which was transmitted on 1 April 2014.[41]

Frith has written on the visibility of women in science, by promoting an exhibition on female scientist portraits at The Royal Society in 2013.[42]

On 26 August 2015 Frith presented the BBC One programme Horizon entitled "OCD: A Monster in my Mind".[43]


Frith was elected Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2005,[6] a Fellow of the British Academy, a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences, a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, an Honorary Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge and an Honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire,[44] she was President of the Experimental Psychology Society, 2006–07.

Personal life

Frith is married to Chris Frith, professor emeritus at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London. Their double portrait was painted by Emma Wesley.[45] They have two children: computational biologist Martin C. Frith[46][4] and children's book editor Alex Frith.[47][3]

In 2009 Uta Frith and her husband jointly received the European Latsis Prize for their contribution to understanding the human mind and brain.[48] In 2014 they were awarded the Jean Nicod Prize[49] for their work on social cognition.


  1. 1 2 Back to the thesis: Uta Frith on YouTube NatureVideoChannel, Springer Nature
  2. 1 2 Smith, Kerri; Baker, Noah (2016). "Back to the thesis: Late nights, typos, self-doubt and despair. Francis Collins, Sara Seager and Uta Frith dust off their theses, and reflect on what the PhD was like for them.". Nature. 535 (7610): 22–25. doi:10.1038/535022a.
  3. 1 2 3 Uta Frith (2016). "Uta Frith Homepage". sites.google.com. Archived from the original on 2016-04-12.
  4. 1 2 Martin C. Frith's Entry at ORCID
  5. "Uta Frith". The Life Scientific. 6 December 2011. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  6. 1 2 Anon (2005). "Professor Uta Frith DBE FBA FMedSci FRS". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2015-11-17. One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from the royalsociety.org website where:
    “All text published under the heading 'Biography' on Fellow profile pages is available under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.” --Royal Society Terms, conditions and policies at the Wayback Machine (archived September 25, 2015)
  7. Houston, R.A.; Frith, Uta (2000). Autism in history: the case of Hugh Blair of Borgue [c. 1708-1765]. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 0-631-22088-7.
  8. Gilles Trehin (2006). Urville. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 1-84310-419-9.
  9. Elisabeth Hill; Frith, Uta (2004). Autism, mind, and brain. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-852924-4.
  10. Frith, Uta (1991). Autism and Asperger syndrome. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-38608-X.
  11. Frith, Uta (2008). Autism: A Very Short Introduction: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-920756-9.
  12. Frith, Uta (1983). Cognitive Processes in Spelling. London, UK: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-268662-4.
  13. Frith, Uta; Sarah-Jayne Blakemore (2005). The learning brain: lessons for education. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-2401-6.
  14. Uta Frith on Twitter
  15. Frith, Uta (2003). Autism: Explaining the Enigma. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-22901-9.
  16. "Book Reviews: Autism: Explaining the enigma By Uta Frith". British Journal of Developmental Psychology. 21 (3): 465–468. 2003. doi:10.1348/026151003322277801.
  17. "Tony Attwood personal website". Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  18. "Margaret Snowling St John's College profile".
  19. "Simon Baron-Cohen University of Cambridge staff profile". Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  20. "Francesca Happé IOP staff profile". Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  21. 1 2 "Professor Uta Frith". Ucl.ac.uk. 25 May 1941. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  22. Frith, Uta (1968). Pattern detection in normal and autistic children (PhD thesis). Institute of Psychiatry, London. OCLC 728381460.
  23. Frith, Uta (1970). "Studies in pattern detection in normal and autistic children. I. Immediate recall of auditory sequences". Journal of Abnormal Psychology. 76 (3): 413–420. doi:10.1037/h0020133. PMID 5490707.
  24. Frith, U. (1970). "Studies in pattern detection in normal and autistic children". Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. 10 (1): 120–135. doi:10.1016/0022-0965(70)90049-4. PMID 5459646.
  25. 1 2 Bishop, D. V. M. (2008). "Forty years on: Uta Frith's contribution to research on autism and dyslexia, 1966–2006". The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 61 (1): 16–26. doi:10.1080/17470210701508665. PMC 2409181Freely accessible. PMID 18038335.
  26. Profile, ucl.ac.uk; accessed 10 June 2015.
  27. "Looking back: My mentors Beate Hermelin and Neil O'Connor". Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  28. List of publications from Microsoft Academic Search
  29. Baron-Cohen, S.; Leslie, A.M.; Frith, U. (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.
  30. Happé, F.; Frith, U. (2006). "The Weak Coherence Account: Detail-focused Cognitive Style in Autism Spectrum Disorders". Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 36 (1): 5–25. doi:10.1007/s10803-005-0039-0. PMID 16450045.
  31. Kate Kellaway (17 February 2013). "Uta Frith: 'The brain is not a pudding; it is an engine'". London, UK: Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  32. "Spotlight on Uta Frith".
  33. "Interacting Minds".
  34. Frith, C.D.; Frith, U. (26 November 1999). "Interacting minds--a biological basis". Science. 286 (5445): 1692–5. doi:10.1126/science.286.5445.1692. PMID 10576727.
  35. "Science and Shopping".
  36. Kylie Sturgess (28 October 2012). "#142 - On Women in Science and Wikipedia". tokenskeptic.org (Podcast). Token Skeptic.
  37. "UCL Women". Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  38. "Professor Uta Frith on BBC2 Dara O Briain's Science Club". BBC. 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  39. "Professor Uta Frith on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs". bps.org.uk. 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  40. "BBC Radio 3 - Essential Classics, Monday - Sarah Walker with Uta Frith". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  41. "Living with Autism". BBC. 2014. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  42. Frith, Uta (1 July 2013). "Invisible women of science – now appearing at the Royal Society". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  43. "OCD: A Monster in my Mind". BBC.
  44. "Honorary DBE". Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  45. "Chris & Uta Frith by Emma Wesley 2008".
  46. "Martin Frith's home page".
  47. "Alex Frith @ Usborne".
  48. "Professors Chris and Uta Frith win European Latsis Prize". Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  49. "2014 Jean Nicod Prize". Institut Nicod.
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