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Academic & Professional Books  Evolutionary Biology  Human Evolution & Anthropology

Becoming Human A Theory of Ontogeny

By: Michael Tomasello(Author)
379 pages, 24 b/w illustrations, 1 table
Publisher: Belknap Press
Becoming Human
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  • Becoming Human ISBN: 9780674980853 Hardback Jan 2019 Usually dispatched within 5 days
Price: £28.95
About this book Contents Customer reviews Biography Related titles

About this book

A radical reconsideration of how we develop the qualities that make us human, based on decades of cutting-edge experimental work by the former director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Virtually all theories of how humans have become such a distinctive species focus on evolution. Here, Michael Tomasello proposes a complementary theory of human uniqueness, focused on development. Building on the seminal ideas of Vygotsky, his data-driven model explains how those things that make us most human are constructed during the first years of a child's life.

Tomasello assembles nearly three decades of experimental work with chimpanzees, bonobos, and human children to propose a new framework for psychological growth between birth and seven years of age. He identifies eight pathways that starkly differentiate humans from their closest primate relatives: social cognition, communication, cultural learning, cooperative thinking, collaboration, prosociality, social norms, and moral identity. In each of these, great apes possess rudimentary abilities. But then, Tomasello argues, the maturation of humans' evolved capacities for shared intentionality transform these abilities – through the new forms of sociocultural interaction they enable – into uniquely human cognition and sociality. The first step occurs around nine months, with the emergence of joint intentionality, exercised mostly with caregiving adults. The second step occurs around three years, with the emergence of collective intentionality involving both authoritative adults, who convey cultural knowledge, and coequal peers, who elicit collaboration and communication. Finally, by age six or seven, children become responsible for self-regulating their beliefs and actions so that they comport with cultural norms.

Becoming Human places human sociocultural activity within the framework of modern evolutionary theory, and shows how biology creates the conditions under which culture does its work.


I. Background
    1. In Search of Human Uniqueness
    2. Evolutionary Foundations
        Human Evolution
        Human Ontogeny
        Explanation in Developmental Psychology
II. The Ontogeny of Uniquely Human Cognition
    3. Social Cognition
        From Apes: Imagining What Others Perceive and Know
        Joint Attention
        The Coordination of Perspectives
        Becoming “Objective”
    4. Communication
        From Apes: Intentional Communication
        Cooperative Communication
        Conventional Communication
        Becoming Symbolic
    5. Cultural Learning
        From Apes: Social Learning
        Imitation and Conformity
        Instructed Learning
        Becoming Knowledgeable
    6. Cooperative Thinking
        From Apes: Individual Thinking
        Collaborative Reasoning
        Coordinated Decision-Making
        Becoming Reasonable
III. The Ontogeny of Uniquely Human Sociality
    7. Collaboration
        From Apes: Acting in Parallel with Others
        Dual-Level Collaboration
        Joint Commitment
        Becoming Second-Personal
    8. Prosociality
        From Apes: Basic Sympathy
        Smithian Helping and Sharing
        Becoming Cooperative
    9. Social Norms
        From Apes: Group Life
        Social Norms
        Becoming Group-Minded
    10. Moral Identity
        From Apes: Social Evaluation
        Self-Presentation and Self-Conscious Emotions
        Moral Justification and Identity
        Becoming Responsible
IV. Conclusion
    11. A Neo-Vygotskian Theory
        Global Theories of Human Ontogeny
        Shared Intentionality Theory
        Problems and Prospects
    12. The Power of Shared Agency

Customer Reviews


Michael Tomasello is Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Duke University. From 1998 to 2018 he was Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, and in 2017 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His scientific work has been recognized by institutions around the world, including the Guggenheim Foundation, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Netherlands, and the German National Academy of Sciences.

By: Michael Tomasello(Author)
379 pages, 24 b/w illustrations, 1 table
Publisher: Belknap Press
Media reviews

"Magisterial – merging primatology, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology and evolution [...] Makes an impressive argument that most distinctly human traits are established early in childhood and that the general chronology in which these traits appear can at least – and at last – be identified."
– David P. Barash, The Wall Street Journal

"How does human psychological growth run in the first seven years, in particular how does it instill 'culture' in us? Tomasello addresses this question [...] by comparing us to chimpanzees and bonobos. Most of all, how does the capacity for shared intentionality and self-regulation evolve in people? This is a very thoughtful and also important book."
– Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

"Theoretically daring, experimentally ingenious, and astonishingly generative, Becoming Human squarely tackles the abiding question of what makes us human."
– Susan Gelman, University of Michigan

"This grand synthesis of three decades of collaborative research at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig is a landmark in our understanding of human development."
– Paul Harris, Harvard University

"Becoming Human is destined to become a classic. Anyone who is interested in cognitive science, child development, human evolution, or comparative psychology should read this book. It surely would have provoked a letter from Darwin – an intellectual ancestor, along with Vygotsky, of this scientific masterpiece."
– Andrew Meltzoff, University of Washington

"This is a must-read from a thinker who has had a major hand in our current understanding of the genealogy of human uniqueness and character."
– Henry Wellman, University of Michigan

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