Uta Frith

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Uta Frith

Uta Frith.jpg
Frith at the Royal Society, October 2012
Uta Aurnhammer

(1941-05-25) 25 May 1941 (age 78)
Nationality German
Spouse(s) Chris Frith
Academic background
Thesis Pattern Detection in Normal and Autistic Children  (1968)
Doctoral advisor Neil O'Connor [1] [2]
Academic work
Discipline Psychologist
Institutions University College London (Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience)
Notable students
Main interests
Website sites.google.com/site/utafrith

Uta Frith [4] (néeAurnhammer; born 25 May 1941) [5] is a German developmental psychologist working at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London. She has pioneered much of the current research into autism [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] and dyslexia, [11] [12] and has written several books on the two subjects. [13] Her book Autism: Explaining the Enigma [14] [15] introduces the cognitive neuroscience of autism. Among the students she has mentored are Tony Attwood, [16] Maggie Snowling, [17] Simon Baron-Cohen [18] and Francesca Happé. [19]



Frith was born Uta Aurnhammer in Rockenhausen, a small village in the hills between Luxembourg and Mannheim in Germany. She completed her undergraduate course in experimental psychology at Saarland University in Saarbrücken. [20] She trained in clinical psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, and went on to complete her Doctor of Philosophy, on pattern detection in neurotypical and autistic children, in 1968. [21] [22] [23] [24] [25]

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. [26]


Frith's research [27] initiated the current representation of a theory of mind deficit in autism. While she was a member of the Cognitive Development Unit (CDU) in London, in 1985 she published with Alan M. Leslie and Simon Baron-Cohen the famous article Does the autistic child have a "theory of mind"?, [28] which proposed that people with autism have specific difficulties understanding other people's beliefs and desires.

She was one of the first in the UK to study Asperger's syndrome there. [29] Her work has focused on reading development, spelling and dyslexia. [20] [24]

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] [31] Frith was one of the first neuroscientists to recognise "autism as a condition of the brain rather than the result of cold parenting." [32]

She has been supported through her career by the Medical Research Council at University College London. [33] Frith is an active collaborator at the Interacting Minds Centre [34] at Aarhus University in Denmark. The goal of the centre is to provide a trans-disciplinary platform, upon which the many aspects of human interaction may be studied. The project is based in part on a paper written with Chris Frith: Interacting Minds – a Biological Basis. [35]

Supporting women in science

Frith has advocated the advancement of women in science, in part by developing a support network called Science & Shopping [36] which she hopes will "encourage women to share ideas and information that are inspiring and fun." [37] 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. [38] In 2015 she was named chair of the Royal Society's Diversity Committee, [39] where she has written about unconscious bias and how it affects which scientists receive grants. [40]

In the media

On 11 May 2012 Frith appeared as a guest on the American PBS Charlie Rose television interview show. [41] On 4 December she appeared as a guest on the "Brain" episode of BBC Two's Dara Ó Briain's Science Club . [41] [42]

On 1 March 2013 she was the guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs . [43]

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. [44] On 1 April 2014, she featured in "Living with Autism", an episode of the BBC's Horizon documentary series. [41] [45]

On 26 August 2015 she presented the Horizon episode entitled "OCD: A Monster in my Mind", [46] and on 29 August 2017 she presented the Horizon episode entitled "What Makes a Psychopath?". [41] [47]

Frith has written on the visibility of women in science, by promoting an exhibition on female scientist portraits at The Royal Society in 2013. [48]


Frith was elected a Fellow of the British Academy and a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2001, a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2005, [49] an Honorary Fellow of the British Psychological Society in 2006, a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in 2008, an Honorary Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge in 2008, a Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences in 2012, and an Honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2012. [50] She was President of the Experimental Psychology Society in 2006–2007. She was awarded the Mind & Brain Prize in 2010. [51] In 2015, she was listed as one of BBC's 100 Women. [52]

Personal life

Frith is married to Chris Frith, professor emeritus at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London. In 2008 a double portrait was painted by Emma Wesley. [53] They have two sons. [54]

In 2009 Frith and her husband jointly received the European Latsis Prize for their contribution to understanding the human mind and brain. [55] In 2014 they were awarded the Jean Nicod Prize [56] for their work on social cognition.

Related Research Articles

Asperger syndrome Neurodevelopmental disorder affecting social interaction

Asperger syndrome (AS), also known as Asperger's, is a developmental disorder characterised by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. As a milder autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it differs from other ASDs by relatively normal language and intelligence. Although not required for diagnosis, physical clumsiness and unusual use of language are common. Signs usually begin before two years of age and typically last for a person's entire life.

Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states — beliefs, intents, desires, emotions, knowledge, etc. — to oneself and to others. Theory of mind is necessary to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one's own. Theory of mind is crucial for everyday human social interactions and is used when analyzing, judging, and inferring others' behaviors. Deficits can occur in people with autism spectrum disorders, genetic-based eating disorders, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, cocaine addiction, and brain damage suffered from alcohol's neurotoxicity; deficits associated with opiate addiction reverse after prolonged abstinence. Theory of mind is distinct from philosophy of mind.

Anthony John Attwood is a British psychologist notable for his work on Asperger syndrome. He resides in Queensland, Australia, where he is an Associate Professor at Griffith University.

Simon Baron-Cohen British psychologist and author

Simon Baron-Cohen is a British clinical psychologist and professor of developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge. He is the Director of the University's Autism Research Centre and a Fellow of Trinity College. In 1985, Baron-Cohen formulated the mind-blindness theory of autism, the evidence for which he collated and published in 1995. 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. However, his views on autism and sex differences, such as the fetal sex steroid theory, are controversial, with some critics asserting that Baron-Cohen's theories are based on subjective perceptions.

A block design test is a subtest on many IQ test batteries used as part of assessment of human intelligence. It is thought to tap spatial visualization ability and motor skill. The test-taker uses hand movements to rearrange blocks that have various color patterns on different sides to match a pattern. The items in a block design test can be scored both by accuracy in matching the pattern and by speed in completing each item.

Mind-blindness is a concept of a cognitive divergence where an individual is unable to attribute mental states to others. As a result of this kind of social and empathetic cognitive phenomenon, the individual is incapable of putting themselves "into someone else's shoes" and cannot conceptualize, understand or predict knowledge, thoughts and beliefs, emotions, feelings and desires, behaviour, actions and intentions of another person. Such an ability to develop a mental awareness of what is in the other minds is known as the theory of mind (ToM), and the "mind-blindness" theory asserts that children who delay in this development often will develop autism. In addition to the research done on autism, ToM and mind-blindness research has recently been extended to other fields such as schizophrenia, dementia, bipolar disorders, antisocial personality disorders as well as normal aging.

Sally–Anne test

The Sally–Anne test is a psychological test, used in developmental psychology to measure a person's social cognitive ability to attribute false beliefs to others. The flagship implementation of the Sally–Anne test was by Simon Baron-Cohen, Alan M. Leslie, and Uta Frith (1985); in 1988, Leslie and Frith repeated the experiment with human actors and found similar results.

Chris Frith British psychologist

Christopher Donald Frith, is a psychologist and professor emeritus at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London. Visiting Professor at the Interacting Minds Centre at Aarhus University, Research Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy and Quondam Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford.

The empathizing–systemizing (E–S) theory is a theory on the psychological basis of autism and male–female neurological differences originally put forward by English clinical psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen. It classifies individuals based on abilities in empathic thinking (E) and systematic thinking (S). It measures skills using an Empathy Quotient (EQ) and Systemizing Quotient (SQ) and attempts to explain the social and communication symptoms in autism spectrum disorders as deficits and delays in empathy combined with intact or superior systemizing.

The weak central coherence theory (WCC), also called the central coherence theory (CC), suggests that a specific perceptual-cognitive style, loosely described as a limited ability to understand context or to "see the big picture", underlies the central disturbance in autism and related autism spectrum disorders. Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, as well as repetitive behaviours and restricted interests.

<i>Autism: Explaining the Enigma</i> book by Uta Frith

Autism: Explaining the Enigma is a book published by psychologist Uta Frith.

Asperger syndrome (AS) is an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It is a relatively new diagnosis in the field of autism. It was named in honor of Hans Asperger (1906–80), who was an Austrian psychiatrist and pediatrician. An English psychiatrist, Lorna Wing, popularized the term "Asperger's syndrome" in a 1981 publication; the first book in English on Asperger syndrome was written by Uta Frith in 1991 and the condition was subsequently recognized in formal diagnostic manuals later in the 1990s.

Alan M. Leslie is a Scottish psychologist and Professor of Psychology and Cognitive science at Rutgers University, where he directs the Cognitive Development Laboratory (CDL) and is co-director of the Rutgers University Center for Cognitive Science (RUCCS) along with Ernest Lepore.

Hans Asperger Austrian pediatrician, medical theorist, and medical professor

Johann "Hans" Friedrich Karl Asperger was an Austrian pediatrician, eugenicist, medical theorist, and medical professor. He is best known for his early studies on mental disorders, specifically in children. His work was largely unnoticed during his lifetime except for a few accolades in Vienna, and his studies on psychological disorders acquired world renown only posthumously. He wrote over 300 publications, mostly concerning a condition he termed autistic psychopathy (AP).

Autism is a variation of neural development diagnosed as impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. It affects an estimated 1 in 100 people. Autism is one of three recognized variations in the autism spectrum (ASDs), the other two being Asperger syndrome, which lacks delays in cognitive development and language, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), which is diagnosed when the full set of criteria for autism or Asperger syndrome are not met. In this article, the word autism is used for referring to the whole range of variations on the autism spectrum, which is not uncommon.

Francesca Happé British neuroscientist

Francesca Gabrielle Elizabeth Happé is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Director of the MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London. Her research concerns autism spectrum conditions, specifically attempting to understanding social cognitive processes in these conditions.

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore British neuroscientist

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore is Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London and co-director of the Wellcome Trust PhD Programme in Neuroscience at UCL

Males are more frequently diagnosed with autism than females. It is debated whether this is due to a sex difference in rates of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or whether females are underdiagnosed. The prevalence ratio is about 4 males for every 1 female diagnosed. Currently, one in every 42 males and one in 189 females in the United States is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. There is some evidence that females may also receive diagnoses somewhat later than males, however thus far results have been contradictory.

David Miedzianik British writer

David Christopher Miedzianik is an English autistic poet and writer. His writings portray the more difficult aspects of autism. Additionally, most of his poems focus on social difficulties that he experiences. He is unemployed, but writes about how he wants to work and find love. Miedzianik writes about specific examples pertaining to those desires. Miedzianik's works have been extensively analyzed by noted autism researchers, who describe his writing as thoughtful, sophisticated, and displaying an unusually strong awareness of his social difficulties.

<i>My Autobiography</i> (Miedzianik) novel by David Miedzianik

My Autobiography is the debut and only prose novel by British autistic poet David Miedzianik. Published in December 1986 by the University of Nottingham, the book chronicles Miedzianik's life from birth until 1985, when the book was written.


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