Around the turn of the century in the UK, Simon Baron-Cohen and others at the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University were working on producing the first electronic encyclopaedia of emotions.

A DVD was produced entitled ‘Mind Reading: the interactive guided to emotions’ [1].

The work was motivated by the lack of any tailor-made educational software for people on the autistic spectrum, many of whom have difficulties in recognising emotions. The team identified 412 discrete human emotions which they subdivided into one of 24 different groups [2].

Prior to this psychologists had worked with a standard set of ‘Ekman faces’, (photographs of the six basic universal emotions developed by Californian psychologist Paul Ekman). Ekman’s six basic emotions are happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust.

In a later paper reporting on the outcomes of the Mind Reading study, and assessing its effectiveness in teaching adults with Asperger syndrome and high functioning autism to recognise complex emotions in faces and voices, Baron-Cohen and his colleague Ofer Golan concluded that the integration of emotional information from faces, voices, and context allowed understanding and perception of others’ emotions and mental states [3]. 

Some 10 years before the study, Baron-Cohen had coined the term ‘mindblindness’ to describe the inability of some people, particularly those with autism, to read the minds of others [4].

The Mind Reading project was primarily developed for people with autism.

However other applications were considered such as difficult to manage children or people with learning disabilities.

Emotion recognition is also an important area of study for people working in the dramatic arts.

The world emotions is a key area in people-centred professions. Social skills training is part of management training and important part of the national curriculum in mainstream schools.

It is also highly relevant when dealing with one-to-one relationships and relating within groups. 

A helpful term to cover the capacity to read the mind of another in this way was coined by Elizabeth Meins and her colleagues: ‘mind-mindedness’ [5] …




[1] Baron-Cohen, S., Hill, J., Golan, O.  & Wheelwright, S. (2002) Mindreading Made Easy. Cambridge Medicine, 17, 28-29.

[2] The 24 are: afraid, angry, bored, bothered, disbelieving (sceptical), disgusted, excited, fond, happy, hurt, interested, kind, liked, romantic, sad, sneaky, sorry, sure, surprised, thinking, touched, unfriendly, unsure, and wanting.

[3] Golan, O. & Baron-Cohen, S. (2006) Systemizing empathy: Teaching adults with Asperger syndrome or high-functioning autism to recognise complex emotions using interactive multimedia. Development and Psychopathology, 18, 591-617.

[4] Baron-Cohen, S. (1995) Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

[5] Meins, E., Fernyhough, C., Russell, J. & Clark-Carter, D. (1998) Security of attachment as a predictor of symbolic and mentalizing abilities: a longitudinal study. Social Development, 7, 1-24.


(This is an edited excerpt from my book A Lawyer’s Guide to Wellbeing and Managing Stress published by ARK Group in 2015.)

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