Michael Tomasello

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).

  • Why We Cooperate

    Why We Cooperate

    Michael Tomasello

    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.

    • Hardcover $17.95
  • Origins of Human Communication

    Origins of Human Communication

    Michael Tomasello

    A leading expert on evolution and communication presents an empirically based theory of the evolutionary origins of human communication that challenges the dominant Chomskian view.

    Human communication is grounded in fundamentally cooperative, even shared, intentions. In this original and provocative account of the evolutionary origins of human communication, Michael Tomasello connects the fundamentally cooperative structure of human communication (initially discovered by Paul Grice) to the especially cooperative structure of human (as opposed to other primate) social interaction. Tomasello argues that human cooperative communication rests on a psychological infrastructure of shared intentionality (joint attention, common ground), evolved originally for collaboration and culture more generally. The basic motives of the infrastructure are helping and sharing: humans communicate to request help, inform others of things helpfully, and share attitudes as a way of bonding within the cultural group. These cooperative motives each created different functional pressures for conventionalizing grammatical constructions. Requesting help in the immediate you-and-me and here-and-now, for example, required very little grammar, but informing and sharing required increasingly complex grammatical devices. Drawing on empirical research into gestural and vocal communication by great apes and human infants (much of it conducted by his own research team), Tomasello argues further that humans' cooperative communication emerged first in the natural gestures of pointing and pantomiming. Conventional communication, first gestural and then vocal, evolved only after humans already possessed these natural gestures and their shared intentionality infrastructure along with skills of cultural learning for creating and passing along jointly understood communicative conventions. Challenging the Chomskian view that linguistic knowledge is innate, Tomasello proposes instead that the most fundamental aspects of uniquely human communication are biological adaptations for cooperative social interaction in general and that the purely linguistic dimensions of human communication are cultural conventions and constructions created by and passed along within particular cultural groups.

    • Hardcover $38.00
    • Paperback $25.00