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An evening discussion convened jointly by the British Academy and the Royal Society.

Chair: Uta Frith; Moderator: Daniel Glaser; Speakers: Francesca Happé, Mark Lythgoe, John Sloboda, Joan Freeman

Extraordinary Talent remains one of the big unexplained puzzles, which will only be solved by a true collaboration between sciences and humanities. One key to the puzzle might be provided by the raised incidence of exceptional talent in individuals with autism. A Discussion Meeting on Autism and Talent was organised under the joint auspices of the British Academy and Royal Society and held in September 2008. Contributors from different disciplines explored aspects ranging from the prevalence and nature of exceptional talent and its basis in the brain, to the cognitive theories currently trying to explain the origin of talent, to the representation of talent and autism in biography and fiction. The outcome of this meeting showed some remarkable convergence of ideas, for instance, the possibility that a detail-focused processing style may predispose to talent. However, it is also clear that many of the most important questions still remain open. Are great artists fundamentally different from the rest of us? Is talent mainly nature or nurture? Is there a price to pay for exceptional ability in one domain? Does having a little bit of autism predispose to talent?

The panel will open discussion on these and similar questions.

Proceedings will be chaired by Professor Uta Frith FBA FRS, FmedSci, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at UCL's Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience and author of Autism: Explaining the Enigma.

Moderator will be Dr Daniel Glaser, Head of Special Projects in Public Engagement at the Wellcome Trust.

Other panel members include:

Francesca Happé , Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, King's College London Institute of Psychiatry, highly acclaimed author of numerous scientific articles and books with particular interest in cognitive strengths and weaknesses in autism, and the genetic basis of cognitive style in autism.

Mark Lythgoe, Director of the Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging, UCL, with wide-ranging research interest in arts and science, including the investigation of unexpected talent following brain injury.

John Sloboda, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, Keele University, and Honorary Professor of Music, Royal Holloway, University of London. He is internationally known for his work on the psychology of music.

Joan Freeman, Visiting Professor at Middlesex University, London, is a distinguished psychologist working in the development of human abilities to their highest levels and is Founding President of the European Council for High Ability (ECHA). Joan was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award for 2007 by the British Psychological Society.

This public event is a follow-up to the Talent and Autism Discussion Meeting held in September 2008.