The field of autism has been studied for many years as it is an increasingly diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder. One of its greatest researchers is Simon Baron-Cohen, a British psychologist who has authored and co-authored theories such as “Theory of Mind” and “The Autistic Male Brain”.
In this article we will see through a biography of Simon Baron-Cohen who is this psychologist, What is his career and what has he discovered in relation to this disorder as complex as it is interesting.
Short biography of Simon Baron-Cohen
Simon Baron-Cohen is a British psychologist, doctor of psychology, born August 15, 1958 in London, England. He is also currently working as a Developmental Professor of Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge; more specifically, in the Department of Psychiatry and Experimental Psychology.
In addition, Simon Baron-Cohen He is also involved in research on neurodevelopmental disorders (such as autism) and is the director of the Autism Research Center. (Autism Research Center – ARC), as well as a member of Trinity College (Cambridge University).
As for his training, psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen received a master’s degree in humanities from New Oxford College, as well as a master’s degree in clinical psychology from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London.
He then obtained a doctorate in psychology from University College London. The director of the doctoral thesis was Uta Frith, a prominent developmental psychologist, also an expert in autism.
Technology and special education
Before diving into the famous theories of Simon Baron-Cohen, we will explain that this psychologist was also interested in new technologies and their use in disorders such as autism.
Thus Baron-Cohen developed software for children with learning disabilities or neurodevelopmental disabilities (Ie a special education program) called “Mindreading”. In addition, he has also designed an animated series for learning to recognize and understand emotions, aimed at children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
Baron-Cohen’s theories of autism
Thus, Simon Baron-Cohen has done a lot of work in the field of autism (also in his research). In fact, Baron-Cohen developed various theories about autism. The first of his theories speaks of a certain “mental blindness”. characteristic of autism, understand mental blindness as some delay in the development of theory of mind.
1. Theory of Mind (TDM)
Theory of mind (TDM), developed by Simon-Baron Cohen, Uta Frith and Alan Leslie in 1985, attempts to explain the communication deficits present in autism, as well as the deficits in social interaction. In addition, this theory is the first diagnostic criterion for autism disorder in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders).
What is theory of mind (TDM)? It is the ability of people without autism or other disorder (ie, “neurotypical” people) to represent the mental states of others, In your own mind. In other words, it involves understanding that others have different states and that these may be different from ours.
This ability usually appears in the early stages of a child’s development and consolidates by the age of 4 or 5 (by age 7, virtually all children have developed it). CT helps us pick up social signals from our environment and interpret. In people with autism, this ability is impaired (it is deficient) and may not even exist (although there are degrees as well). Fortunately, however, this is a skill that can be worked on.
2. Male brain theory
Following this theory, Simon Baron-Cohen also postulates another: through it, he maintains that autism consists of an extreme form of “male brain”. This theory is called the “male brain theory” or “empathy-systematization theory”.
This theory maintains that there are “two major types of brains”, male and female.. Men are more likely to systematize, recognize, and analyze patterns, and women are more likely to empathize and relate better to the emotional state of others.
So, according to the male brain theory, people with autism have a more masculine (in fact, extreme masculine) brain because their systematization capacities are overdeveloped (Compared to empathy skills, more emotional).
It was at the end of the 1990s that Simon Baron-Cohen developed this hypothesis. Such a hypothesis sought to explain the differences between the two sexes and analyzed them from a neurobiological and psychological point of view.
One of Simon Baron-Cohen’s most notable research is that in which he shows that children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) show some delay in developing theory of mind (TDM), described above. In fact, this research we talked about was the first study to be done on this topic, and Simon Baron-Cohen was a co-author.
Baron-Cohen continued his research on this topic and ended up publishing two anthologies, entitled “Understanding Other Minds” (1993 and 2000).
Other aspects that this author analyzed, with his work team, were joint care (or shared care) of children with ASD. Remember that joint attention is the ability to share the focus of our attention on an object or activity, with another person, at a specific time.
Thus, studies by Simon Baron-Cohen and his research team have linked this ability to the theory of mind deficit of children with autism, postulating that this deficit has its origin in the lack of joint care. Specifically, they suggested that his absence at 18 months was one of the indicators of later autism.
The autistic brain
As we see, Simon Baron-Cohen focused on studying the mind and brain of people with autism. Some of his studies suggest that there are some differences between brains with autism and the brains of people without autism.
These differences reside mainly in two brain structures: the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex. In fact, in connection with these discoveries, Baron-Cohen proposed another of his theories; this one in particular is denominated “theory of the autism of amygdala”.
Right temporoparietal junction
One of Simon Baron-Cohen’s discoveries concerning the autistic brain dates back to 2011, when he demonstrated (with his partner Michael Lombardo) that a specific brain structure, the right temporoparietal junction, remained hypoactivated (in the brains of children autistic) while allowed to study theory of mind.
In addition, the differences observed in this brain structure were also linked to variations in the social deficit of these children.
- Baron-Cohen, S. and Howlin, P. (1993). The theory of mind deficit in autism: some teaching and diagnostic problems. Zero century.
- Baron-Cohen, S. (1999). Autism: A cognitive disorder specific to “blindness of the mind”. International Journal of Psychiatry, 19-33.
- Baró-Cohen, S. (2006). Autism and hypersystematization. Ibero-American Psychology, 14 (1): 40-45.