The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition

Michael 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.


The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition would be a stimulating starter for anyone interested in human developmental psychology, animal behaviour, and cultural psychology.


Check if this erudite work in human developmental psychology is in stock at your local library by consulting the online catalogue at



252 pages in Harvard University Press

First published 2000

ISBN 978-0674000704


Professor Michael Tomasello

Scroll to Top