Simon Baron-Cohen
Baron-Cohen in 2011
Born (1958-08-15) 15 August 1958 (age 65)
Alma mater
Known forAutism research
AwardsKanner-Asperger Medal 2013 (WGAS)[1]
Scientific career
FieldsPsychology and Cognitive neuroscience
InstitutionsUniversity of Cambridge
ThesisSocial cognition and pretend-play in autism (1985)
Doctoral advisorUta Frith

Simon Baron-Cohen FBA[2] (born 15 August 1958) is a British clinical psychologist, 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] In 1985 he formulated the mindblindness theory of autism, the evidence for which was collated in his 1995 book. 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.

Personal life and education

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]

He married Bridget Lindley, a family rights lawyer, in 1987. She died in 2016.[6][7]

Baron-Cohen has three children, the eldest of whom is screenwriter and director Sam Baron.[8] He has an older brother Dan Baron Cohen and three younger siblings, brother Ash Baron-Cohen and sisters Suzie and Liz.[9] Their cousin is the actor and comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.[10][11] 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.[12]

Autism research

While he was a member of the Cognitive Development Unit (CDU) in London, in 1985 Baron-Cohen was lead author of the first study, published with Alan M. Leslie and Uta Frith, which proposed a correlation between children with autism and delays in the development of a theory of mind, known as ToM.[13][14] 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.[14]

Baron-Cohen in 2011

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.[15] His team has investigated whether synaesthesia is connected to autism.[16]

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.[8][17] He postulates that more individuals with autistic traits are marrying each other and having children.[8] 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."[17]

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".[8] 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.[8] The theory has received further support in 2016.[18]

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;[17] his theory is known as the "extreme male brain" theory of autism.[11] 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".[19] Critics say that because his work has focused on higher-functioning individuals with autism spectrum disorders, it requires independent replication with broader samples.[20] His prediction that prenatal testosterone would be elevated in autism has been confirmed.[21]

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.[22] 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.[23]

Baron-Cohen developed the Mindreading software for special education,[24] which was nominated for an award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) interactive award in 2002.[25] 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.[8][26]


Further information: Empathizing–systemizing theory § Criticism

Glen Elliott, a UCSF psychiatrist, is skeptical of Baron-Cohen's claim that historical figures displayed autistic traits. This is because he views attempting to diagnose on the basis of biographical information as extremely unreliable, and claims that any behaviour can have various causes.[27]


Baron-Cohen is a Fellow of the British Psychological Society (BPS),[28] the British Academy,[2] and the Association for Psychological Science.[29] He is a BPS Chartered Psychologist.[28]

He serves as Vice-President of the National Autistic Society (UK),[30] and was the 2012 Chairman of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Guideline Development Group for adults with autism.[31] 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.[32] He is President-Elect of INSAR.[33]

He is the Chair of the Psychology Section of the British Academy.[34]


Baron-Cohen was awarded the 1990 Spearman Medal from the BPS,[35] the McAndless Award from the American Psychological Association,[36] the 1993 May Davidson Award for Clinical Psychology from the BPS,[37] and the 2006 presidents' Award from the BPS.[38] 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 Science Channel documentary Brainman about Daniel Tammet.[39][40]

In 2010, Norwegian documentarian Harald Eia published the TV series Hjernevask ("Brainwash") in which Baron-Cohen appeared during two episodes about gender differences in new-born children.[40]

In 2016, he appeared in all 3 episodes of the BBC Two documentary Employable Me, showing the talents in people with autism and how these could be a benefit to employers.[41]

Selected publications

Single-authored books

Other books

Selected journal articles

See also


  1. ^ a b "Awardees". Wissenschaftliche Gesellschaft Autismus-Spektrum (WGAS). Retrieved 18 December 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Seven Cambridge academics elected as Fellows of The British Academy". Cambridge University. 17 July 2009. Retrieved 27 December 2013.
  3. ^ a b c d "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 2409181. PMID 18038335.
  6. ^ "Obituary: Bridget Lindley OBE". Family Law. 26 April 2016.
  7. ^ "Obituary: Bridget Lindley". The Times. 22 April 2016.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Warner, Judith (29 August 2011). "Autism's lone wolf". Time. Retrieved 28 December 2013.(subscription required)
  9. ^ "Simon Baron-Cohen: My special sister Suzie". The Jewish Chronicle. 17 April 2014.
  10. ^ "Time Out with Nick Cohen". New Statesman. 26 February 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2010.
  11. ^ a b Szalavitz, Maia (30 May 2011). "Q&A: Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen on empathy and the science of evil". Time. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  12. ^ The Provocative Baron Cohen Clan - Page 7 of 9 - Moment Magazine. (25 November 2015). Retrieved on 2016-05-14.
  13. ^ Baron-Cohen, Simon; Leslie, Alan M.; Frith, Uta (October 1985). "Does the autistic child have a "theory of mind"?". Cognition. 21 (1). Amsterdam: Elsevier: 37–46. doi:10.1016/0010-0277(85)90022-8. PMID 2934210.
  14. ^ a b Saxe, Rebecca (9 May 2008). "1985 paper on the theory of mind". SFARI: Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  15. ^ Carpenter, Siri (March 2001). "Everyday fantasia: The world of synesthesia". 32 (3). American Psychological Association. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ a b c Baron-Cohen, Simon (9 November 2012). "Are geeky couples more likely to have kids with autism?". Scientific American. Retrieved 28 December 2013.(subscription required)
  17. ^ "Partner preferences may contribute to autism prevalence | Spectrum". Spectrum. 5 December 2016. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
  18. ^ Benenson JF (2003). "Sex on the brain". Nature. 424 (6945): 132–133. doi:10.1038/424132b.
  19. ^ Buchen, Lizzie (November 2011). "Scientists and autism: When geeks meet". Nature. 479 (7371): 25–7. doi:10.1038/479025a. PMID 22051657.
  20. ^ "Children with autism have elevated levels of steroid hormones in the womb". University of Cambridge. 3 June 2014. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ "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.
  23. ^ "Mind Reading: Frequently Asked Questions: Who developed it?". Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  24. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Interactive: Offline Learning in 2002". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  25. ^ "BAFTA Awards: Children's: Learning – Primary in 2007". British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Retrieved 3 January 2014.
  26. ^ Muir, Hazel. "Einstein and Newton showed signs of autism". New Scientist. Retrieved 4 November 2017.
  27. ^ a b "Chartered Psychologist emphasises the importance of empathy". The British Psychological Society. 28 April 2011. Archived from the original on 30 December 2013. Retrieved 2 January 2014. ((cite web)): Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  28. ^ "Reflecting on a lifetime of achievement: Uta Frith". Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  29. ^ "Vice presidents". National Autistic Society. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  30. ^ "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. ((cite web)): Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  31. ^ "Molecular Autism: brain, cognition and behavior". BioMed Central Ltd. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  32. ^
  33. ^ "How our Fellowship is organised | British Academy". British Academy. Retrieved 17 December 2016.
  34. ^ "Spearman medal". The British Psychological Society: History of Psychology Centre. Archived from the original on 11 December 2013. Retrieved 31 December 2013. ((cite web)): Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (|url-status= suggested) (help)
  35. ^ "Boyd McCandless Award: Past recipients: 1990". American Psychological Association. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  36. ^ "Previous winners: May Davidson Award". The British Psychological Society. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  37. ^ "Presidents' Award for distinguished contributions to psychological knowledge". The British Psychological Society: History of Psychology Centre. Retrieved 31 December 2013.
  38. ^ 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.
  39. ^ a b Simon Baron-Cohen at IMDb.
  40. ^ "BBC Two - Employable Me - Episode guide". BBC Online. Retrieved 17 February 2017.