Understanding cooperation as a distinctly human combination of innate and learned behavior.
Drop something in front of a two-year-old, and she's likely to pick it up for you. This is not a learned behavior, psychologist Michael Tomasello argues. Through observations of young children in experiments he himself has designed, Tomasello shows that children are naturally—and uniquely—cooperative. Put through similar experiments, for example, apes demonstrate the ability to work together and share, but choose not to. As children grow, their almost reflexive desire to help—without expectation of reward—becomes shaped by culture. They become more aware of being a member of a group. Groups convey mutual expectations, and thus may either encourage or discourage altruism and collaboration. Either way, cooperation emerges as a distinctly human combination of innate and learned behavior. In Why We Cooperate, Tomasello's studies of young children and great apes help identify the underlying psychological processes that very likely supported humans' earliest forms of complex collaboration and, ultimately, our unique forms of cultural organization, from the evolution of tolerance and trust to the creation of such group-level structures as cultural norms and institutions. Scholars Carol Dweck, Joan Silk, Brian Skyrms, and Elizabeth Spelke respond to Tomasello's findings and explore the implications.
Michael Tomasello is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University and Emeritus Director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. His recent books include Becoming Human, A Natural History of Human Morality, A Natural History of Human Thinking, Origins of Human Communication, and Why We Cooperate (the last two published by the MIT Press).
The work of Tomasello and his colleagues provides the best and most exciting point of entry into a literature that will certainly shape philosophical debates for the years to come.
Cambridge University Press
... the fascinating approach to the question of what makes us human renders this a singularly worthwhile read.