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The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition Paperback – 1 May 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; New Ed edition (1 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674005821
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674005822
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.8 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 236,586 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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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 Nature "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 Lingua Franca

About the Author

Michael Tomasello is Co-Director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. He is the author of First Verbs and the coauthor of Primate Cognition.

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By Kirsten Korning on 20 Feb. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nice to - for once - read a scientific book on development, language and learning, which is easily read and understood.
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By Ena Mensah on 10 Sept. 2014
Format: Paperback
Good condition
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
The Essential Ingredient 25 Sept. 2002
By Stanley R. Palombo - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is the best account of cognitive development in human beings I've read, and as a psychoanalyst I've read quite a few. Tomasello focuses on the essential difference between human children and our closest relatives among the great apes. This is the ability to imagine that another creature has a mind with intentions and with plans to fulfill those intentions. From this capability follows the human infant's unique capacity to track the behavior of adults and to reconstruct their thoughts and intentions from their observed actions. Apes can make accurate predictions by watching what other apes do. They can emulate those actions in a general way, but they cannot imagine what the other ape is trying to do, or that there might in fact be other ways of doing whatever that is. As Tomasello shows, without a model of the other creature's intentions,it is impossible to appreciate and imitate the fine details of his actions. It is also impossible to build a cumulative model that relates one set of actions with another to form a larger scheme of mental activity.
Tomasello shows how the entire structure of shared ideas and artifacts that we call culture rests on this uniquely human cogitive achievement. His descriptions of the steps and stages in the evolving interaction between the child and its caretakers make this progressive development crystal clear. His account of languge acquisition is unusually good. He shows, for example, that words do not simply label objects but identify them through the particular aspects they display in a variety of meaningful contexts. Language introduces perspective, allowing the infant to see the world without the exclusive bias of his own immediate needs.
Tomasello's writing doesn't waste any words, but maintains a tone of empathy and understanding that makes the book a pleasure to read. I think it will prove invaluable to any educator or clinician concerned with understanding the receptivity to learning of either children or adults.
13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Convincing and provocative work 11 Jun. 2001
By B. M. Still - Published on
Format: Paperback
Tomasello's work convincingly elucidates the roles of attention and intention discovery amongst infants in the acquisition of language. He enables us to dispense with ideas of linguistic modules, of "innateness" with respect to human speech acquisition. The key, in his thesis, is the human awareness of intention, and it's the emergence of this in infants at around 9 months which provides the basis for language comprehension (ultimately). A very enjoyable and persuasive text - strongly recommended to anyone interested in the origins of human language (on a species and individual basis).
10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Cutting-edge evolutionary psychology 10 Feb. 2005
By Ambulocetus - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is marvellous, and is now being used in more recent work on the evolutionary origins of language and social institutions. Tomasello has done an enormous amount of empirical research to support his points, and also has a good theory background (Vygotsky's ideas on the social nature of learning, for example). More recent work in this field often either uses Tomasello's work or parallels his ideas--see for example Terrence W. Deacon's book The Symbolic Species or Greenspan and Shanker's book The First Idea. Tomasello's book does an excellent job of debunking older ideas that the human mind MUST be hardwired for language and other aspects of culture (e.g., Stephen Mithen's ideas of cognitive modules in the phylogenesis of religion). A splendid book, and not difficult at all to read.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant and exciting hypothesis 2 Aug. 2010
By Book Babe - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Tomasello's positing of a "ratchet effect" in human cultural learning is an elegant and convincing explanation of the speed with which the human ape outdistanced competitors in such a short period of time. A very exciting and enlightening book.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Five Stars 4 Aug. 2014
By José Monserrat Neto - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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