Who am I?
I have been Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience since 2006. I have been a Visiting Professor at the University of Aarhus at the Interacting Minds Centre from 2007 to 2015. I have been a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the Central European University in Budapest (February - June 2014). From 1998 to 2008 I was Deputy Director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, and before this I was a member of two MRC Units affiliated to UCL, The MRC Developmental Psychology Unit (1968-1982) and the MRC Cognitive Development Unit (1982-1998).
You can have a look up my publications in various places including Google Scholar. My two favourite disorders are autism and dyslexia, because they are puzzling and endlessly fascinating and also because they promise to give us a glimpse of the hidden machinery of the mind. I have used methods from experimental psychology and neuropsychology. These helped me to investigate quite daringly, and often controversially, some very high-level cognitive processes, such as "Theory of Mind", "Drive for Central Coherence", "Phonological awareness". I tried to find out whether these processes contained clues to some of the core features of autism and dyslexia. My ambition was to discover the underlying cognitive causes of these disorders and to link them to behaviour on the one hand and to the brain on the other. I also tried to make my research relevant to understanding some of the daily struggles of individuals with developmental disorders and their families. It is very doubtful whether I got anywhere near these lofty goals.
What have I been doing after retirement? Most of my time is now spent writing. After about 7 years or so, Chris Frith and I have now finished a book on "What makes us social". We delved deep into the literature and drew together what is known about evolution, development and pathology of social cognition. At the same time we were also working towards a graphic novel with the same content. Our son, Alex Frith was the author and director of this project; Daniel Locke the artist. There is more on both books on other pages of the frithmind blog.
I am still as fascinated as ever with autism and with dyslexia. in 2014 I enjoyed making the BBC2 Horizon programme "Living with autism". This gave me a taste for being more active in science communication. In 2015 I presented a BBC2 Horizon documentary on OCD "A monster in my mind"; in 2017 a documentary on "What makes a psychopath". You can probably catch these programmes on YouTube.
I am keen to make neuroscience research relevant to education and learning throughout the life span. With Sarah-Jayne Blakemore I wrote a book "The learning brain, Lessons for education", published 2005. In 2010-11 I chaired a Working Group on Neuroscience and education for the Royal Society in their series Brainwaves: Neuroscience, Society and Policy. We had some fruitful discussions across the divide of neuroscientists on one side and teachers and policy makers on the other. We found that a common language needs to be developed to bridge laboratory based experiments and classroom practice. A web-based forum might well offer a step in this direction. We have produced a report entitled "Neuroscience: implications for education and lifelong learning". Here is a printer friendly version, and a summary. This was in July 2014.
Another of my late acquired interests is the advancement of women in science. I have been championing high-flying, hard-working women who juggle family and career can talk to each other by a support network that I called science&shopping. It ran from about 2006 to 2016 with informal meetings and a website for sharing ideas and information. This network was continued as UCLWomen.org and ran sporadically and included wine tasting, speed dating and media experience. It was stopped only by the pandemic. The Steering committee includes Sally Day, Helen Wilson, Kate Jeffery and Jennifer Rohn.
From 2015 to 2018 I was chair of the Royal Society's Diversity Committee. This made me think much more seriously about equality, fairness and diversity in general. I wrote a brief guide on Unconscious bias which you can download from the Royal Society's website. You can also see an accompanying 3-minute animation on YouTube. In addition I helped produce a guide on How to make better Group Decisions, also accompanied by a short animation.
In 2017-18 I was President of the British Science Association.
u.frith @ ucl.ac.uk
Photo by Kristina Clackson Bonnington, taken at the Royal Society in 2019