Michael Tomasello

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Michael Tomasello (born January 18, 1950) is an American developmental psychologist. He is a co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.


Tomasello was born in Bartow, Florida. He received his bachelor's degree from Duke University and his doctorate from University of Georgia.[1] He was a professor of psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia during the 1980s and 1990s[1] before moving to Germany.

He has worked to identify the unique cognitive and cultural processes that distinguish humans from their nearest primate relatives, the 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 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.


  1. ^ a b Biographical information from his official webpage
  2. ^ Süddeutsche Zeitung, December 2, 2011, p. 18

External links[edit]