Office of the Dean
Valerie S. Ashby, Ph.D., Dean of Trinity College

Save the Date - National Academy Member Michael Tomasello Lecture - September 7, 2017

July 17, 2017

Duke Professor Michael Tomasello

2017 National Academy of Sciences Fellow

Michael Tomasello, Member of the National Academy of Sciences“In Search of Human Uniqueness"

Thursday, September 7, 2017
4:00-5:00 p.m.
Lecture: Griffith Film Theater, Bryan Center
Reception: The Landing, Bryan Center

RSVP for Lecture & Reception



Tomasello is a Duke alumnus, Trinity '72, B.A. Psychology

Duke cognitive scientist Michael Tomasello has been elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. National academy membership is regarded as the highest recognition for a scientist. He earned a experimental psychology at the University of Georgia in 1980. He returned to teach at Duke in 2016 as the James F. Bonk Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, and also has appointments in the Departments of Evolutionary Anthropology and Philosophy.


Tomasello’s major research interests are in psychological processes of social cognition, social learning, cooperation, and communication. Much of his research is comparative and developmental, especially comparing great apes’ skills with those of human children at different ages. His current theoretical focus is on processes of shared intentionality and how they help to transform the great ape version of all of these social skills into the uniquely human version during ontogeny. His empirical research is mainly with great apes and with human children from 1 to 4 years of age.

Tomasello, who also directs the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, studies what makes humans uniquely human. In particular, his lab studies how and why young children develop the social and cognitive skills that enable them to cooperate and communicate as adults. The lab also does comparative studies of skill development among young human children and great apes.

Awards & Recognition

  • Elected Member of the National Academy of Sciences – 2017
  • Elected Member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences – 2017
  • Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award, American Psychological Association – 2015
  • Helmuth Plessner Prize in Philosophical Anthropology, University of Wiesbaden, Germany – 2014
  • Klaus Jacobs Research Prize in Child Development, Zürich, 2011
  • Wiley Prize in Psychology, The British Academy – 2011
  • Heineken Prize for Cognitive Science, Royal Academy of Netherlands – 2010
  • Max Planck Research Prize in Human Evolution, Humboldt Foundation – 2010
  • Sir Frederic Bartlett Prize & Lectureship, Experimental Psychology Society, UK – 2009
  • Oswald Külpe Prize in Experimental Psychology, University of Würzburg, Germany – 2009
  • Hegel Prize in Human Sciences, University of Stuttgart, Germany – 2009
  • Mind & Brain Prize, Center for Cognitive Science, University of Turin, Italy – 2007
  • Jean Nicod Prize for Philosophy of Cognitive Science, Centre National de la Rechercher Scientifique – 2006
  • Fyssen Foundation Prize for Cognitive Science, Fyssen Foundation, Paris - 2004


Natural History of Human Morality

A Natural History of Human Morality

by Michael Tomasello, Harvard University Press (January 4, 2016)

A Natural History of Human Morality offers the most detailed account to date of the evolution of human moral psychology. Based on extensive experimental data comparing great apes and human children, Michael Tomasello reconstructs how early humans gradually became an ultra-cooperative and, eventually, a moral species.

Natural History of Human Thinking

A Natural History of Human Thinking

by Michael Tomasello, Harvard University Press (February 17, 2014)

Tool-making or culture, language or religious belief: ever since Darwin, thinkers have struggled to identify what fundamentally differentiates human beings from other animals. Tomasello creates a compelling argument that cooperative social interaction is the key to our cognitive uniqueness. Once our ancestors learned to put their heads together with others to pursue shared goals, humankind was on an evolutionary path all its own.

Origins of Human Communication

Origins of Human Communication

by Michael Tomasello, A Bradford Book (August 13, 2010)

Human communication is grounded in fundamentally cooperative, even shared, intentions. In this original and provocative account of the evolutionary origins of human communication, Tomasello connects the fundamentally cooperative structure of human communication to the especially cooperative structure of human (as opposed to other primate) social interaction.

Why We Cooperate

Why We Cooperate

by Michael Tomasello, The MIT Press; First Edition, 1st Printing edition (August 28, 2009)

Drop something in front of a two-year-old, and she's likely to pick it up for you. This is not a learned behavior, Tomasello argues. Through observations of young children in experiments he himself has designed, he shows that children are naturally -- and uniquely -- cooperative.

* Eleanor Maccoby Book Award, American Psychological Association, 2009

Constructing a Language

Constructing a Language: A Usage-Based Theory of Language Acquisition

by Michael Tomasello, Harvard University Press; New Ed edition (March 31, 2005)

In this groundbreaking book, Tomasello presents a comprehensive usage-based theory of language acquisition. Drawing together a vast body of empirical research in cognitive science, linguistics, and developmental psychology, he demonstrates that we don't need a self-contained "language instinct" to explain how children learn language. Their linguistic ability is interwoven with other cognitive abilities.

* Cognitive Development Society Book Award, 2005

The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition

by Michael Tomasello, Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (March 2, 2001)

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.

* William James Book Award, American Psychological Association, 2001

Primate Cognition

Primate Cognition

by Michael Tomasello and Josep Call, Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 18, 1997)

Soon after Charles Darwin formulated his theory of evolution, primate cognition became a major area of research. In this book, Michael Tomasello and Josep Call assess the current state of our knowledge about the cognitive skills of non-human primates. They integrate empirical findings on the topic from the beginning of the century to the present, placing this research in theoretical perspective. They begin with an examination of the way primates adapt to their physical world, mostly for the purpose of foraging.