Uta Frith

Uta Frith[4] (née Aurnhammer; 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]

Uta Frith

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

(1941-05-25) 25 May 1941 (age 78)
Spouse(s)Chris Frith
Academic background
ThesisPattern Detection in Normal and Autistic Children (1968)
Doctoral advisorNeil O'Connor[1][2]
Academic work
InstitutionsUniversity College London (Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience)
Notable students
Main interests


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 scienceEdit

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 mediaEdit

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 lifeEdit

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.


  1. ^ a b Back to the thesis: Uta Frith on YouTube NatureVideoChannel, Springer Nature.
  2. ^ a b 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. PMID 27383967.
  3. ^ "Uta Frith". The Life Scientific. 6 December 2011. BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 18 January 2014.
  4. ^ DBE (Hon), FRS, FBA, FMedSci.
  5. ^ Frith, Uta. BnF Catalogue général. catalogue.bnf.fr (in French). Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  6. ^ Houston, R. A.; Frith, Uta (2000). Autism in history: the case of Hugh Blair of Borgue [c. 1708–1765]. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 978-0-631-22088-6.
  7. ^ Gilles Trehin (2006). Urville. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. ISBN 978-1-84310-419-3.
  8. ^ Elisabeth Hill; Frith, Uta (2004). Autism, mind, and brain. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-852924-8.
  9. ^ Frith, Uta (1991). Autism and Asperger syndrome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-38608-1.
  10. ^ Frith, Uta (2008). Autism. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-1992-0756-5.
  11. ^ Frith, Uta (1983). Cognitive Processes in Spelling. London, UK: Academic Press. ISBN 978-0-12-268662-7.
  12. ^ Frith, Uta; Sarah-Jayne Blakemore (2005). The learning brain: lessons for education. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-2401-0.
  13. ^ Uta Frith (2016). "Uta Frith Homepage". Archived from the original on 12 April 2016.
  14. ^ Leekam, Susan R. (May 1991). "Book Review: Autism: Explaining the Enigma". The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 43 (2): 301–302. doi:10.1080/14640749108400972.
  15. ^ "Book Reviews: Autism: Explaining the enigma By Uta Frith". British Journal of Developmental Psychology. 21 (3): 465–468. 2003. doi:10.1348/026151003322277801.
  16. ^ "Tony Attwood personal website". Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  17. ^ "Professor Maggie Snowling". St John's College.
  18. ^ "Simon Baron-Cohen University of Cambridge staff profile". Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  19. ^ "Francesca Happé IOP staff profile". Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  20. ^ a b "Professor Uta Frith". University College London. 25 May 1941. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  21. ^ Frith, Uta (1968). Pattern detection in children with and without autism (PhD thesis). Institute of Psychiatry, London. OCLC 728381460.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ a b 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 2409181. PMID 18038335.
  25. ^ Profile, University College London. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  26. ^ "Looking back: My mentors Beate Hermelin and Neil O'Connor". Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  27. ^ List of publications from Microsoft Academic.
  28. ^ Baron-Cohen, Simon; Leslie, Alan M.; Frith, Uta (October 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. Pdf.
  29. ^ Frith, Uta (1991). "Asperger and his syndrome". In Uta Frith (ed.), Autism and Asperger syndrome, pp. 1–36. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  30. ^ Frith, Uta (2008). "Weak central coherence (p. 90 ff.)". Autism. A Very Short Introduction.
  31. ^ 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.
  32. ^ Kellaway, Kate (17 February 2013). "Uta Frith: 'The brain is not a pudding; it is an engine'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  33. ^ "Spotlight on Uta Frith". 10 July 2013.
  34. ^ "interactingminds.au.dk". interactingminds.au.dk.
  35. ^ Frith, C.D.; Frith, U. (26 November 1999). "Interacting minds—a biological basis". Science. 286 (5445): 1692–1695. doi:10.1126/science.286.5445.1692. PMID 10576727.
  36. ^ "Science&shopping". sites.google.com.
  37. ^ Kylie Sturgess (28 October 2012). "#142 – On Women in Science and Wikipedia" (Podcast). tokenskeptic.org.
  38. ^ "UCL Women". Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  39. ^ "Uta Frith". sites.google.com. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  40. ^ "Implicit and unconscious, the bias in us all | In Verba | Royal Society". blogs.royalsociety.org. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
  41. ^ a b c d Uta Frith on IMDb.
  42. ^ "Professor Uta Frith on BBC2 Dara O Briain's Science Club". BBC. 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2012.
  43. ^ "Professor Uta Frith on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs". bps.org.uk. 2013. Archived from the original on 22 October 2013. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  44. ^ "BBC Radio 3 – Essential Classics, Monday – Sarah Walker with Uta Frith". BBC. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  45. ^ "Living with Autism". BBC. 2014. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  46. ^ "OCD: A Monster in my Mind". BBC.
  47. ^ "What Makes a Psychopath?". BBC.
  48. ^ Frith, Uta (1 July 2013). "Invisible women of science – now appearing at the Royal Society". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 June 2014.
  49. ^ Anon (2005). "Professor Uta Frith DBE FBA FMedSci FRS". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 17 November 2015. 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". Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 9 March 2016.

  50. ^ "Honorary DBE". Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  51. ^ "Mind & Brain Prize - Mente e Cervello". www.mentecervello.it. Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  52. ^ "BBC 100 Women 2015: Who is on the list?". BBC News. 17 November 2015. Retrieved 3 August 2019.
  53. ^ "The Neuroscientists: Portrait of Chris and Uta Frith". emma-wesley.co.uk.
  54. ^ "Investigating Psychology: CHIPs". www2.open.ac.uk.
  55. ^ "Professors Chris and Uta Frith win European Latsis Prize". 19 November 2009. Retrieved 10 June 2015.
  56. ^ "2014 Jean Nicod Prize". Institut Nicod.

External linksEdit