Michael Tomasello

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Michael Tomasello (born January 18, 1950) is an American developmental and comparative psychologist; as well a linguist. He is co-director of Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, honorary professor at University of Leipzig's Department of Psychology, and professor of psychology at Duke University.

Earning many prizes and awards from the end of the 1990s onward, he is considered one of today's most authoritative developmental and comparative psychologists, he is "one of the few scientists worldwide who is acknowledged as an expert in multiple disciplines".[1] His "pioneering research on the origins of social cognition has led to revolutionary insights in both developmental psychology and primate cognition."[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Tomasello was born in Bartow, Florida, he received his bachelor's degree from Duke University and his doctorate from University of Georgia.[3]


He was a professor of psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, US, during the 1980s and 1990s.[3] Subsequently, he moved to Germany to work at the Max Planck Institute.[3]

He has worked to identify the unique cognitive and cultural processes that distinguish humans from their nearest primate relatives, the other great apes, he studies the social cognition of great apes at the Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center in Leipzig. In his developmental research he has focused on how human children become cooperating members of cultural groups, focusing in recent years on uniquely human skills and motivations for shared intentionality: joint intentions, joint attention, collaboration, prosocial motives, and social norms.

Tomasello also works on child language acquisition as a crucially important aspect of the enculturation process, he is a critic of Noam Chomsky's universal grammar, rejecting the idea of an innate universal grammar[4] and instead proposing a functional theory of language development (sometimes called the social-pragmatic or usage-based approach to language acquisition) in which children learn linguistic structures through intention-reading and pattern-finding in their discourse interactions with others.


Selected works[edit]

  • Tomasello, M. & Call, J. (1997). Primate Cognition. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-510624-4
  • Tomasello, M. (1999). The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition, Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-00582-1 (Winner of the William James Book Award of the APA, 2001)
  • Tomasello, M. (2003). Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition, Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01764-1 (Winner of the Cognitive Development Society Book Award, 2005)
  • Tomasello, M. (2008). Origins of Human Communication, MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-20177-3 (Winner of the Eleanor Maccoby Book Award of the APA, 2009)
  • Tomasello, M. (2009). Why We Cooperate, MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-01359-8
  • Tomasello, M. (2014). A Natural History of Human Thinking, Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674724778
  • Tomasello, M. (2016). A Natural History of Human Morality, Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674088641

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Heineken Prize for Cognitive Science". knaw.nl. The Netherlands: Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. 2010. 
  2. ^ "2015 Distinguished Scientific Contribution Awards". apa.org. American Psychological Association. 
  3. ^ a b c Biographical information Archived June 11, 2009, at the Wayback Machine. from his official webpage
  4. ^ a b 2011 Wiley Prize in Psychology at Wiley.com
  5. ^ "Klaus Jacobs Preis". Süddeutsche Zeitung. 2 December 2011. p. 18. 
  6. ^ Prizewinners at the German Helmuth Plessner Society (HPG)

External links[edit]