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 ...
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
Growing evidence indicates that our higher rational capacities depend on social interaction—that only through engaging with others do we acquire the ability to evaluate beliefs as true or false, or to reflect on and evaluate the reasons that support our beliefs. Up to now, however, we have had little understanding of how this works. Here we argue that a uniquely human socio-linguistic phenomenon which we call ‘joint attention to mental content’ plays a key role. JAM is the ability to focus (...) together in conversation on the content of our mental states, such as beliefs and reasons. In such conversations it can be made clear that our attitudes to beliefs or reasons may conflict—that what I think is true, you might think is false, or that what I think is a good reason for believing something, you might think is a bad reason. We argue that through JAM, children discover that mental contents can be evaluated under various attitudes, and that this discovery transforms their mind-reading and reasoning abilities. (shrink)
Young children interpret some acts performed by adults as normatively governed, that is, as capable of being performed either rightly or wrongly. In previous experiments, children have made this interpretation when adults introduced them to novel acts with normative language (e.g. ‘this is the way it goes’), along with pedagogical cues signaling culturally important information, and with social-pragmatic marking that this action is a token of a familiar type. In the current experiment, we exposed children to novel actions with no (...) normative language, and we systematically varied pedagogical and social-pragmatic cues in an attempt to identify which of them, if either, would lead children to normative interpretations. We found that young 3-year-old children inferred normativity without any normative language and without any pedagogical cues. The only cue they used was adult socialpragmatic marking of the action as familiar, as if it were a token of a well-known type (as opposed to performing it, as if inventing it on the spot). These results suggest that – in the absence of explicit normative language – young children interpret adult actions as normatively governed based mainly on the intentionality (perhaps signaling conventionality) with which they are performed. (shrink)
Social norms have played a key role in the evolution of human cooperation, serving to stabilize prosocial and egalitarian behavior despite the self-serving motives of individuals. Young children’s behavior mostly conforms to social norms, as they follow adult behavioral directives and instructions. But it turns out that even preschool children also actively enforce social norms on others, often using generic normative language to do so. This behavior is not easily explained by individualistic motives; it is more likely a result of (...) children’s growing identification with their cultural group, which leads to prosocial motives for preserving its ways of doing things. (shrink)
Human social life is structured by social norms creating both obligations and entitlements. Recent research has found that young children enforce simple obligations against norm violators by protesting. It is not known, however, whether they understand entitlements in the sense that they will actively object to a second party attempting to interfere in something that a third party is entitled to do — what we call counter-protest. In two studies, we found that 3-year-old children understand when a person is entitled (...) to do something, and so they actively defend this person’s entitlement against unjustified interference from second parties. In some cases, they even enforce second-order entitlements, for example, in the case of ownership where an owner is entitled to entitle others to use the owner’s property. (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)
Human adults incline toward moral objectivism but may approach things more relativistically if different cultures are involved. In this study, 4-, 6-, and 9-year-old children (N = 136) witnessed two parties who disagreed about moral matters: a normative judge (e.g., judging that it is wrong to do X) and an antinormative judge (e.g., judging that it is okay to do X). We assessed children’s metaethical judgment, that is, whether they judged that only one party (objectivism) or both parties (relativism) could (...) be right. We found that 9-year-olds, but not younger children, were more likely to judge that both parties could be right when a normative ingroup judge disagreed with an antinormative extraterrestrial judge (with different preferences and background) than when the antinormative judge was another ingroup individual. This effect was not found in a comparison case where parties disagreed about the possibility of different physical laws. These findings suggest that although young children often exhibit moral objectivism, by early school age they begin to temper their objectivism with culturally relative metaethical judgments. (shrink)
In this paper, I approach epistemic norms from an ontogenetic point of view. I argue and present evidence that to understand epistemic norms – e.g., scientific norms of methodology and the evaluation of evidence – children must first develop through their social interactions with others three key concepts. First is the concept of belief, which provides the most basic distinction on which scientific investigations rest: the distinction between individual subjective perspectives and an objective reality. Second is the concept of reason, (...) which in the context of science obligates practitioners to justify their claims to others with reasons by grounding them in beliefs that are universally shared within the community. Third is the concept of social norm, which is not primarily epistemic, but provides children with an understanding of norms as collective agreements. The theoretical argument is that all three of these concepts emerge not from just any kind of social interaction, but specifically from social interactions structured by the human species’ unique capacities for shared intentionality. (shrink)
My response to the commentaries focuses on four issues: the diversity both within and between cultures of the many different faces of obligation; the possible evolutionary roots of the sense of obligation, including possible sources that I did not consider; the possible ontogenetic roots of the sense of obligation, including especially children's understanding of groups from a third-party perspective ; and the relation between philosophical accounts of normative phenomena in general – which are pitched as not totally empirical – and (...) empirical accounts such as my own. I have tried to distinguish comments that argue for extensions of the theory from those that represent genuine disagreement. (shrink)
Orang-utans played a communication game in two studies testing their ability to produce and comprehend requestive pointing. While the ‘communicator’ could see but not obtain hidden food, the ‘donor’ could release the food to the communicator, but could not see its location for herself. They could coordinate successfully if the communicator pointed to the food, and if the donor comprehended his communicative goal and responded pro-socially. In Study 1, one orang-utan pointed regularly and accurately for peers. However, they responded only (...) rarely. In Study 2, a human experimenter played the communicator’s role in three conditions, testing the apes’ comprehension of points of different heights and different degrees of ostension. There was no effect of condition. However, across conditions one donor performed well individually, and as a group orang-utans’ comprehension performance tended towards significance. We explain this on the grounds that comprehension required inferences that they found difficult – but not impossible. The finding has valuable implications for our thinking about the development of pointing in phylogeny. (shrink)
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.
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.
Infants can see someone pointing to one of two buckets and infer that the toy they are seeking is hidden inside. Great apes do not succeed in this task, but, surprisingly, domestic dogs do. However, whether children and dogs understand these communicative acts in the same way is not yet known. To test this possibility, an experimenter did not point, look, or extend any part of her body towards either bucket, but instead lifted and shook one via a centrally pulled (...) rope. She did this either intentionally or accidentally, and did or did not address her act to the subject using ostensive cues. Young 2-year-old children but not dogs understood the experimenter’s act in intentional conditions. While ostensive pulling of the rope made no difference to children’s success, it actually hindered dogs’ performance. We conclude that while human children may be capable of inferring communicative intent from a wide variety actions, so long as these actions are performed intentionally, dogs are likely to be less flexible in this respect. Their understanding of communicative intention may be more dependent upon bodily markers of communicative intent, including gaze, orientation, extended limbs, and vocalisations. This may be because humans have come under selective pressure to develop skills for communicating with absent interlocutors – where bodily co-presence is not possible. (shrink)
The communicative interactions of very young children almost always involve language, gesture and directed gaze. In this study, ninety-six children were asked to determine the location of a hidden toy by understanding a communicative act that contained none of these familiar means. A light-and-sound mechanism placed behind the hiding place and illuminated by a centrally placed switch was used to indicate the location of the toy. After a communicative training session, an experimenter pressed the switch either deliberately or accidentally, and (...) with or without ostension. In no condition did she orient towards the hiding place. When the switch was pressed intentionally, children used the light-and-sound cue to find the toy – and tended to do so even in the absence of ostensive eye contact. When the experimenter pressed the switch accidentally, children searched randomly – demonstrating that they were tracking her communicative intent, and not merely choosing on the basis of salience. The absence of an effect of ostension contradicts research that ostension helps children to interpret the communicative intentions underlying unfamiliar signs. We explain this by concluding that while it may play a role in establishing a communicative interaction, it is not necessary for sustaining one; and that even with a highly novel communicative act – involving none of the means of communication on which children typically rely – three-year-olds can comprehend the communicative intentions behind an intentionally produced act. (shrink)