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Cognition and Development – Autism

5. Cognitive Theories of Autism

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In this module, we consider two major theories of autism as a cognitive disorder and how they can help to explain some of the characteristics associated with the condition. Firstly, we discuss the ‘theory of mind hypothesis’ which suggests that individuals with autism lack the ability to imagine how others think and feel (i.e. they lack a ‘theory of mind’). Secondly, we examine the hypothesis of ‘weak executive function’, a theory proposing that certain brain functions (e.g. planning, working memory and the inhibition of prepotent responses) are impaired in individuals with autism.


In this course, Professor Peter Mitchell (University of Nottingham), discusses the condition of autism. We begin, in module one, by asking what autism is before moving on, in module two, to examine the causes of this condition. Module three looks at the question ‘Can autism be cured?’, while module four examines whether autism is an affective or a cognitive condition. In module five, we think about different cognitive theories of autism. Finally, in module six, we take a closer look at a specific cognitive theory of autism, known as the theory of ‘weak central coherence’.


Peter Mitchell gained a BA (Hons) in Psychology and a PhD in Psychology at the University of Liverpool, UK. After that, he spent three years working as a postdoctoral scientist at Birmingham University. He is now serving as Professor and Director of Studies in Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. Previously, he was Head of the School of Psychology in Nottingham UK. He has published around 100 scientific articles in leading international journals, has published six books and he is editor of the British Journal of Psychology. He has served as Chair of the Developmental Section of the British Psychological Society and as Chief Examiner for the Economic and Social Research Council UK PhD studentship competition. Before joining Nottingham University he worked at the University of Birmingham, University of Oxford, University of Wales and University of Warwick. He also served as visiting professor at McGill University in Canada.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Mitchell, P. (2020, February 20). Cognition and Development – Autism - Cognitive Theories of Autism [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Mitchell, Peter. "Cognition and Development – Autism – Cognitive Theories of Autism." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 20 Feb 2020,

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