The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition / Edition 1

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Nature

Students of primate behavior are one of several groups who should read this important book. It spells out forcefully what appears to make human development so distinctive, and does so from the perspective of an expert in language acquisition who has also devoted much time to comparative work with apes. It is strong medicine for anybody in danger of romanticizing the similarity of ape to child. Developmental psychologists will find here a well-articulated account of the ontogeny of cultural learning, which challenges alternative accounts from the vantage point of extensive research.
— Andrew Whiten

Lingua Franca

"In The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition...[Tomasello] argues that what makes human beings unique is that they are so good at learning from one another and that they create new, original things with what they learn."
— Helen Epstein

Nature - Andrew Whiten
Students of primate behavior are one of several groups who should read this important book. It spells out forcefully what appears to make human development so distinctive, and does so from the perspective of an expert in language acquisition who has also devoted much time to comparative work with apes. It is strong medicine for anybody in danger of romanticizing the similarity of ape to child. Developmental psychologists will find here a well-articulated account of the ontogeny of cultural learning, which challenges alternative accounts from the vantage point of extensive research.
Lingua Franca - Helen Epstein
In The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition...[Tomasello] argues that what makes human beings unique is that they are so good at learning from one another and that they create new, original things with what they learn.
Katherine Nelson
A much needed book that covers a broad territory with both clarity and authority. Having spent much of his career comparing human and nonhuman primate cognition, Michael Tomasello makes the case for a social developmental foundation of the unique capacities of the human primate--language, complex cognition, and culture. His ontogenetic 'ratchet hypothesis' is both simple and provocative. It will be welcomed--and argued about--by a wide audience.
Michael Cole
Tomasello is one of the very few scholars who works at the intersection of the phylogenetic, cultural-historical, and ontogenetic contributions to development. His studies linking non-human primate development to the development of human infants are exciting and compelling. He has done the study of human development a great service with the publication of this book.
Jerome Bruner
A powerful and coherent synthesis, and the best formulation of cultural psychology we've yet had.
Andrew Whiten
Students of primate behavior are one of several groups who should read this important book. It spells out forcefully what appears to make human development so distinctive, and does so from the perspective of an expert in language acquisition who has also devoted much time to comparative work with apes. It is strong medicine for anybody in danger of romanticizing the similarity of ape to child. Developmental psychologists will find here a well-articulated account of the ontogeny of cultural learning, which challenges alternative accounts from the vantage point of extensive research.
Nature
Helen Epstein
In The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition...Tomasello argues that what makes human beings unique is that they are so good at learning from one another and that they create new, original things with what they learn.
Lingua Franca
Library Journal
Homo sapiens has existed as a separate species for only a very short period of time on the evolutionary scale (six million years at most), and we share 99 percent of our DNA with our closest primate relatives. How then can humans be as different from other primates as we obviously are? Developmental psychologist Tomasello thinks that all of the many unique characteristics of humans are elaborations of one trait that arises in human infants at about nine months of age: the ability to understand other people as intentional agents. (He dismisses a bit too cavalierly the anecdotal evidence of recent animal behaviorists who would describe a good deal of animal behavior as intentional in this sense.) Language, elaborate cultures, and other hallmarks of humanity are all natural outgrowths of this single trait. The author is clearly highly credentialed, his thesis is certainly plausible, and the language is not jargony. However, his topic is really very limited; the bulk of the book focuses on the narrow issue of "shared attention." Only graduate students and developmental psychologists will want to know this much about the subject. Recommended for academic collections.--Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674005822
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 849,180
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Tomasello is Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.
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Table of Contents

1. A Puzzle and a Hypothesis

2. Biological and Cultural Inheritance

3. Joint Attention and Cultural Learning

4. Linguistic Communication and Symbolic Representation

5. Linguistic Constructions and Event Cognition

6. Discourse and Representational Redescription

7. Cultural Cognition

References

Index

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