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Cognition and Development – Autism

6. Weak Central Coherence

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about a cognitive theory of autism known as the ‘weak central coherence hypothesis’. We discuss the origins of this theory in the work of Uta Frith (1989) which suggested that individuals with autism differ from others in the way they process information, i.e. by being overly focused on detail at the expense of overall meaning or broader contexts. We then consider two psychometric tests which have been used to offer evidence of this theory: (i) the embedded figures test and (ii) the block design test. Finally, we conclude the module with some thoughts on how the unusual cognitive and perceptual abilities displayed by individuals with autism can be seen as strengths as well as weaknesses.


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.

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APA style

Mitchell, P. (2020, February 20). Cognition and Development – Autism - Weak Central Coherence [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Mitchell, Peter. "Cognition and Development – Autism – Weak Central Coherence." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 20 Feb 2020,

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