Ambitious and elegant, this book builds a bridge between evolutionary theory and cultural psychology. Michael Tomasello is one of the very few people to have done systematic research on the cognitive capacities of both nonhuman primates and human children. The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition identifies what the differences are, and suggests where they might have come from. -/- Tomasello argues that the roots of the human capacity for symbol-based culture, and the kind of psychological development that takes (...) place within it, are based in a cluster of uniquely human cognitive capacities that emerge early in human ontogeny. These include capacities for sharing attention with other persons; for understanding that others have intentions of their own; and for imitating, not just what someone else does, but what someone else has intended to do. In his discussions of language, symbolic representation, and cognitive development, Tomasello describes with authority and ingenuity the "ratchet effect" of these capacities working over evolutionary and historical time to create the kind of cultural artifacts and settings within which each new generation of children develops. He also proposes a novel hypothesis, based on processes of social cognition and cultural evolution, about what makes the cognitive representations of humans different from those of other primates. -/- Lucid, erudite, and passionate, The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition will be essential reading for developmental psychology, animal behavior, and cultural psychology. (from the HUP website). (shrink)
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 ...
In this enlightening exploration of our nearest primate relatives, Michael Tomasello and Josep Call address the current state of our knowledge about the cognitive skills of non-human primates and integrate empirical findings from the beginning of the century to the present.
We propose that the crucial difference between human cognition and that of other species is the ability to participate with others in collaborative activities with shared goals and intentions: shared intentionality. Participation in such activities requires not only especially powerful forms of intention reading and cultural learning, but also a unique motivation to share psychological states with others and unique forms of cognitive representation for doing so. The result of participating in these activities is species-unique forms of cultural cognition and (...) evolution, enabling everything from the creation and use of linguistic symbols to the construction of social norms and individual beliefs to the establishment of social institutions. In support of this proposal we argue and present evidence that great apes understand the basics of intentional action, but they still do not participate in activities involving joint intentions and attention. Human children's skills of shared intentionality develop gradually during the first 14 months of life as two ontogenetic pathways intertwine: the general ape line of understanding others as animate, goal-directed, and intentional agents; and a species-unique motivation to share emotions, experience, and activities with other persons. The developmental outcome is children's ability to construct dialogic cognitive representations, which enable them to participate in earnest in the collectivity that is human cognition. Key Words: collaboration; cooperation; cultural learning; culture; evolutionary psychology; intentions; shared intentionality; social cognition; social learning; theory of mind; joint attention. (shrink)
To explain the evolutionary emergence of uniquely human skills and motivations for cooperation, Tomasello et al. (2012, in Current Anthropology 53(6):673–92) proposed the interdependence hypothesis. The key adaptive context in this account was the obligate collaborative foraging of early human adults. Hawkes (2014, in Human Nature 25(1):28–48), following Hrdy (Mothers and Others, Harvard University Press, 2009), provided an alternative account for the emergence of uniquely human cooperative skills in which the key was early human infants’ attempts to solicit care (...) and attention from adults in a cooperative breeding context. Here we attempt to reconcile these two accounts. Our composite account accepts Hrdy’s and Hawkes’s contention that the extremely early emergence of human infants’ cooperative skills suggests an important role for cooperative breeding as adaptive context, perhaps in early Homo. But our account also insists that human cooperation goes well beyond these nascent skills to include such things as the communicative and cultural conventions, norms, and institutions created by later Homo and early modern humans to deal with adult problems of social coordination. As part of this account we hypothesize how each of the main stages of human ontogeny (infancy, childhood, adolescence) was transformed during evolution both by infants’ cooperative skills “migrating up” in age and by adults’ cooperative skills “migrating down” in age. (shrink)
Although psychologists have paid scant attention to the sense of obligation as a distinctly human motivation, moral philosophers have identified two of its key features: First, it has a peremptory, demanding force, with a kind of coercive quality, and second, it is often tied to agreement-like social interactions in which breaches prompt normative protest, on the one side, and apologies, excuses, justifications, and guilt on the other. Drawing on empirical research in comparative and developmental psychology, I provide here a psychological (...) foundation for these unique features by showing that the human sense of obligation is intimately connected developmentally with the formation of a shared agent “we,” which not only directs collaborative efforts but also self-regulates them. Thus, children's sense of obligation is first evident inside, but not outside, of collaborative activities structured by joint agency with a partner, and it is later evident in attitudes toward in-group, but not out-group, members connected by collective agency. When you and I voluntarily place our fate in one another's hands in interdependent collaboration – scaled up to our lives together in an interdependent cultural group – this transforms the instrumental pressure that individuals feel when pursuing individual goals into the pressure that “we” put on me to live up to our shared expectations: a we > me self-regulation. The human sense of obligation may therefore be seen as a kind of self-conscious motivation. (shrink)
The idea of a biologically evolved, universal grammar with linguistic content is a myth, perpetuated by three spurious explanatory strategies of generative linguists. To make progress in understanding human linguistic competence, cognitive scientists must abandon the idea of an innate universal grammar and instead try to build theories that explain both linguistic universals and diversity and how they emerge.
My approach to reference focuses on naturally occuring processes of communication, and in particular on children's earliest referential activities. I begin by describing three different kinds of child gesture — ritualizations, deictics, and symbolic gestures — and then proceed to examine young children's early word learning. The account focuses on the joint attentional situations in which young children learn their earliest gestures and linguistic symbols and on the social-cognitive and cultural learning processes involved in the different cases.
As the cognitive revolution was slow to come to the study of animal behavior, the vast majority of what we know about primate cognition has been discovered in the last 30 years. Building on the recognition that the physical and social worlds of humans and their living primate relatives pose many of the same evolutionary challenges, programs of research have established that the most basic cognitive skills and mental representations that humans use to navigate those worlds are already possessed by (...) other primates. There may be differences between humans and other primates, however, in more complex cognitive skills, such as reasoning about relations, causality, time, and other minds. Of special importance, the human primate seems to possess a species-unique set of adaptations for “cultural intelligence,” which are broad reaching in their effects on human cognition. (shrink)
ABSTRACTHere I summarize the main points in my 2016 book, A Natural History of Human Morality. Taking an evolutionary point of view, I characterize human morality as a special form of cooperation. In particular, human morality represents a kind of we > me orientation and valuation that emanates from the logic of social interdependence, both at the level of individual collaboration and at the level of the cultural group. Human morality emanates from psychological processes of shared intentionality evolved to enable (...) individuals to function effectively in ever more cooperative lifeways. (shrink)
Much of children's early syntactic development can be seen as the acquisition of sentence-level constructions that correspond to relatively complex events and states of affairs. The current study was an attempt to determine the relative concreteness (verb-specificity) or abstractness (verb-generality) of such constructions for children just beginning to produce large numbers of multi-word utterances. Sixteen children at 2.0 years of age and sixteen children at 2,5 years of age participated (all English speaking). Each child was taught two novel verbs for (...) a highly transitive action: one in a transitive construction (Ernie is tamming the car) and one in an intransitive construction (with patient äs subject: The ball is meeking). They were then given opportunities to use their newly learned verbs, in many cases in discourse situations that encouraged use of the "opposite" construction (i.e., agent and patient-focused questions). Results showed that 2.0-year-old children almost never produced an utterance using a novel verb in anything other than the construction in which it had been modeled. Children at 2.5 years of age were somewhat more productive, but still the large majority of these children avoided using the experimental verbs in nonmodeled constructions. These results suggest that when English-speaking children produce simple transitive and intransitive utterances in their spontaneous speech, they are doing so on a verb-specific basis (verb Island constructions), schematizing more abstract constructions only later äs they discover patterns that apply across many such lexically specific constructions. (shrink)
As Bruner so eloquently points out, and Gauvain echoes, human beings are unique in their “locality.” Individual groups of humans develop their own unique ways of symbolizing and doing things – and these can be very different from the ways of other groups, even those living quite nearby. Our attempt in the target article was to propose a theory of the social-cognitive and social-motivational bases of humans' ability and propensity to live in this local, that is, this cultural, way – (...) which no other species does – focusing on such things as the ability to collaborate and to create shared material and symbolic artifacts. (shrink)
Byrne & Russon redefine the process of emulation learning as “goal emulation” and thereby distort its most distinctive characteristic: the criterion that the observer focuses on environmental rather than behavioral processes. The two empirical examples recounted – gorilla plant processing and orangutan manipulation of human artifacts – are hierarchically organized behaviors, but there is very little evidence that they involve imitative learning, program-level or otherwise.
Michael Tomasello explains the human sense of obligation by the role it plays in negotiating practices of acting jointly and the commitments they underwrite. He draws in his work on two models of joint action, one from Michael Bratman, the other from Margaret Gilbert. But Bratman's makes the explanation too difficult to succeed, and Gilbert's makes it too easy.
On the surface Kant himself seems quite clear about who is deserving of respect: The morally relevant others are all “rational, free beings” or all “human beings.” It is clear, however, that Kant does not want to identify “human beings” in this sense with members of a particular biological species, for he is explicitly open to the idea that there might be non-biologically human rational beings. Thus, for example he is explicitly open to the possibility of extraterrestrial rational beings, who (...) would not be members of the same biological species as us, but who would, presumably be worthy of respect. And it would seem possible that there are members of our biological species who are not “human” in the morally relevant sense. Given these facts, a Kantian needs to give some account of how we are to recognize who or what counts as “human” in the morally relevant sense. I argue that to be “human” in the morally relevant sense is to have the capacity for morality, and that this involves: (a) the capacity to recognize others as ends rather than merely as means and (b) the capacity to enter into relations of ethical community with us. I defend a position I name moral reliabilism. According to this position: (a) We have a quasi-perceptual capacity to directly ascribe moral status to various bits of the world around us. I will argue that this capacity is best thought of in Gibsonian terms as a capacity to pick up on certain types of social affordances; morally relevant others have the capacity to engage in ethical interaction with us, and recognizing the humanity of others involves picking up on this capacity. Those beings who are “human” in the morally relevant sense, then, afford interaction based on mutual respect. (b) We should assume as a postulate of practical reason that this capacity is reliable (although fallible). (shrink)
Although Bloom gives more credit to social cognition (mind reading) than do most other theorists of word learning, he does not go far enough. He still relies fundamentally on a learning process of association (or mapping), neglecting the joint attentional and cultural learning skills from which linguistic communication emerges at one year of age.