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Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications of Cognitive Models of Autism

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Amber Ruigrok.

As in many areas of science, neuropsychological models of autism tend to cite explanatory but unobservable mechanisms such as the “shared-attention mechanism” (Baron-Cohen) or the “self-other switch” (Bird and Viding). Although constrained by the data, the character of these models and the debates about them suggest that choosing one model over another is at least partly a matter of judgment about best fit, plausibility, or reasonableness. This talk will look at the ethical, legal, and social implications of these choices. The implications are particularly significant when it comes to moral responsibility. For instance, there might be situations involving the criminal justice system in which understanding autistic behavior as evidence of “mindblindness” would lead to acquittal for a serious crime when an “extreme male brain” view of the same behavior would lead to jail. Further complicating matters are the competing theories of moral responsibility offered by philosophy and law. Specific cases will be used to raise questions about the extent to which such broad contextual concerns should inform the conduct of autism research.

This talk is part of the ARClub Talks series.

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