Institut Jean Nicod

Home page > Seminars & Conferences > Jean Nicod Lectures and Prize > Archives > C. & U. FRITH (2014) > Jean Nicod Prize & Lectures 2014

Jean Nicod Prize & Lectures 2014


Chris et Uta FRITH

Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London

Chris Frith, Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology, Wellcome Trust Centre for NeuroImaging, University College London.


Uta Frith is Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at University College London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and Visiting Professor at the University of Aarhus. Uta was born and educated in Germany. She studied Experimental Psychology at the University of Saarbrücken, and Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London. Since her PhD she has been fascinated by autism and the search for underlying cognitive deficits that can explain the core symptoms, a lack of reciprocal social interaction coexisting with unusual perceptual abilities. From 1968 until 2006 Uta was an independent research scientist, affiliated to UCL and funded by the Medical Research Council, UK. Her other life-long research interest has been dyslexia and, more generally, neuro-cognitive processes in reading and spelling. Recently, she has examined some ideas from neuroscience that might benefit education. One of her current passions is championing women scientists. Uta Frith has received honorary degrees from the Universities of Gothenburg, St Andrews, Palermo, Nottingham, York and Cambridge. She is a fellow of the British Academy and of the Royal Society. She is also a member of the Leopoldina, Germany’s National Academy of Science and a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences. In 2012 she was appointed an Honorary DBE.

Chris Frith is Emeritus Professor of Neuropsychology at the Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London and Visiting Professor at the Interacting Minds Centre at Aarhus University. He studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge University and Clinical Psychology at the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London. Since completing his PhD he was funded by the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust to study the relationship between the mind and the brain. He was a pioneer in the application of brain imaging to the study of mental processes and is known especially for his work on agency, social cognition, and understanding the minds of people with mental disorders such as schizophrenia. Currently he is particularly interested in contrasting personal and subpersonal modes of cognition and in applying a Bayesian approach to the study of the mind. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellow of the British Academy, and past president of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. Chris Frith has received honorary degrees from Paris-Lodron University, Salzburg and from the University of York and is a Quondam Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford. His book, Making up the Mind: How the Brain Creates our Mental World (Wiley-Blackwell 2007) has been translated into several languages, including French (Comment le cerveau crée notre univers mental, Odile Jacob, 2010).


Program - Brochure


Friday 14 November 2014, 2:30pm to 4:30 pm -
Audio and video recording
Ecole normale supérieure, 45, rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris. Salle Dussane
Uta Frith
What is innate and what is acquired in social cognition?

Cognitive mechanisms that underlie human social interactions encompass many primary capacities, including emotion contagion, learning by observation, and conformity. How do these engines develop in a child and how does nurture shape the development? I propose that the brain at birth comes equipped with start-up kits that enable fast track learning. I will use so-called ‘explicit mentalising’ as an example of a culturally acquired ability and contrast it with ‘implicit mentalising’, an innate capacity. I also speculate that there are culturally diverse cognitive ‘apps’ that are installed from the outside, by instruction. Once installed, they can trickle down into the unconscious part of the social mind and can control implicit processes. Thus, tensions between different innate mechanisms can be resolved. This can explain how human beings create normative rules for acceptable and unacceptable social behaviour, which regulate selfishness and altruism.

Tuesday 18 November 2014, 2:30pm to 4:30 pm
Audio and video recording
Ecole normale supérieure, 29, rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris. Amphithéâtre Jules Ferry.
Chris Frith
Mechanisms of social interaction

The brain is often described as a Bayesian machine that makes inferences about the state of the world. The mechanisms of perception by which such inferences are updated via prediction errors are well understood. These same mechanisms enable us to learn about the world of objects and agents by observing the behaviour of others. However, of equal importance are the mechanisms of action by which the state of the world is updated in response to prediction errors. The interplay of perception and action is critical for joint action and for learning about and exploring the world of groups and ideas through experience and communication. Simple rules linking perception and action can create complex interactions in groups such shoaling in fish and pack hunting in wolves. In the same way simple rules governing communicative interactions can lead to the emergence of groups such as institutions, and concepts such as meaning.

Thursday 20 November, 2:30pm to 4:30 pm
Audio and video recording
Ecole normale supérieure, 29, rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris. Amphithéâtre Jules Ferry.
Uta Frith
Lessons for social cognition from atypical development

Many neurodevelopmental disorders, in addition to autism, affect social communication, over and above other cognitive processes. Does this show that social communication is the most complex and hence most fragile of cognitive accomplishments that will show down-stream effects of interruptions that can happen during neural migration and/or pruning? Not necessarily. Not all neuro-developmental disorders affect social interaction. Another possibility is that human beings at all ages are extremely sensitive, and consequently unforgiving, when detecting a failure of social abilities, and this might conceivably be a reason for the frequent diagnosis of social impairments. Already at a young age children can spot another child who does not attempt to conform.

Friday 21 November 2014, 2:30pm to 4:30 pm
Audio and video recording
Ecole normale supérieure, 29, rue d’Ulm, 75005 Paris. Amphithéâtre Jules Ferry.
Chris Frith
Explicit metacognition: the person-culture loop

Metacognition is cognition that monitors and controls other, lower-level cognitive processes. Such control depends upon representing the properties of these cognitive processes, such as their reliability. Metacognition is often taken to be an example of an explicit, conscious, executive process. However, recent empirical studies provide many examples of implicit, unconscious forms of metacognition. This raises the question of what explicit, conscious metacognition is good for, especially given the evidence that it is frequently fallible and inaccurate. I will argue that explicit metacognition enables us to discuss, with each other, the nature of the world and how the mind works. Such discussions have top-down effects on behaviour and experience. These effects can result in cultural consensus on topics such as how actions are controlled, leading to ideas about responsibility for action which are critical for social cohesion. It is this uniquely human ability, to reflect and report on our experiences, which enables the development of cumulative culture.


Frith, U., & Frith, C. (1999) Interacting minds - A biological basis. Science, 286, 1692-1695.
Frith, C.D., Frith, U. (2006) The neural basis of mentalizing. Neuron, 50(4) 531-4
Kilner, J. M., Friston, K. J., & Frith, C. D. (2007). The mirror system: a Bayesian perspective. Neuroreport, 18, 619-623.
Frith C.D. & Frith U. (2008) Implicit and explicit processes in social cognition. Neuron. 2008 Nov 6;60(3):503-10
Frith, U., Frith, C. (2010) The social brain: allowing humans to boldly go where no other species has been. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 12;365(1537):165-76
Frith, U. (2012) Why we need cognitive explanations of autism. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 65(11):2073-92.
Frith, C & Frith, U (2012) Mechanisms of Social Cognition. Annual Review of Psychology, 63, 287-313
Frith, U. (2013) Autism and Dyslexia: A Glance Over 25 Years of Research Perspectives on Psychological Science, 8 (6) pp. 670-672
Shea, N. J., Boldt, A., Bang, D., Yeung, N., Heyes, C., & Frith, C. D. (2014). Supra-Personal Cognitive Control and Metacognition. Trends Cogn Sci, 18, 186-193.
Frith, C. D. (2014). How the brain creates culture. Nova Acta Leopoldina. In press.
Frith, C. D. (2010). Making up the mind. Blackwell. Comment le cerveau crée notre univers mental. Paris : Odile Jacob.
Frith, C. D. (2012). The Cognitive Neuropsychology Of Schizophrenia. HOVE,
Frith, U. (2003) Autism: Explaining the Enigma. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing. L'Énigme de l'autisme, Paris : Odile Jacob, 2e édition 2006.
Frith, U. & with S.-J. Blakemore (2005). The Learning Brain: Lessons for Education. Oxford : Blackwell Publishing