You are not currently logged in. Please create an account or log in to view the full course.

Cognition and Development – Autism

2. What Causes Autism?

This is the course trailer. Please create an account or log in to view this lecture.

  • Description
  • Cite

About this Lecture


In this lecture, we think about the causes of autism and how these have been understood historically and in the present day, focusing in particular on: (i) historical perspectives which associated the development of autism in children with a lack of maternal affection; (ii) Bruno Bettelheim’s concept of the ‘refrigerator mother’; (iii) how this view has been superseded in more recent research by the proposition that genetics play a crucial role in whether or not a child will develop the condition; (iv) the fact that individuals with autism frequently have a restricted diet, noting that this is not a cause but rather an effect of the condition.


In this course, Professor Peter Mitchell (University of Nottingham) explores the condition of autism. In the first lecture, we think about what autism is. In the second lecture, we examine the causes of autism. In the third lecture, we look at the question ‘Can autism be cured?’. Next, we consider whether autism is an affective or a cognitive condition. In the fifth lecture, we think about different cognitive theories of autism. In the sixth and final lecture, we take a closer look at a specific cognitive theory of autism, known as the theory of ‘weak central coherence’.


Peter Mitchell is Professor and Director of Studies in Psychology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus. Previously, he was head of the School of Psychology on the University of Nottingham’s UK campus. He has published six books and is editor of the British Journal of Psychology. Professor Mitchell 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. Some of Professor Mitchell’s recent publications include ‘Autism and the double empathy problem: Implications for development and mental health’ (2020) and ‘Do neurotypical people like or dislike autistic people?’ (2021).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Mitchell, P. (2020, February 20). Cognition and Development – Autism - What Causes Autism? [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Mitchell, P. "Cognition and Development – Autism – What Causes Autism?." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 20 Feb 2020,

Image Credits