Michael Tomasello

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Saxony, Germany

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Publications (588)2164.39 Total impact

  • Marco F.H. Schmidt · Susanne Hardecker · Michael Tomasello ·

    Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 03/2016; 143:34-47. DOI:10.1016/j.jecp.2015.10.014 · 3.12 Impact Factor
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    Richard Moore · Josep Call · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: Orang-utans played a communication game in two studies testing their ability to produce and comprehend requestive pointing. While the ‘communicator’ could see but not obtain hidden food, the ‘donor’ could release the food to the communicator, but could not see its location for herself. They could coordinate successfully if the communicator pointed to the food, and if the donor comprehended his communicative goal and responded pro-socially. In Study 1, one orang-utan pointed regularly and accurately for peers. However, they responded only rarely. In Study 2, a human experimenter played the communicator’s role in three conditions, testing the apes’ comprehension of points of different heights and different degrees of ostension. There was no effect of condition. However, across conditions one donor performed well individually, and as a group orang-utans’ comprehension performance tended towards significance. We explain this on the grounds that comprehension required inferences that they found difficult – but not impossible. The finding has valuable implications for our thinking about the development of pointing in phylogeny.
    PLoS ONE 12/2015; 10(6). DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0129726 · 3.23 Impact Factor
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    Silke Brandt · Elena Lieven · Michael Tomasello ·

    Language Learning and Development 11/2015; DOI:10.1080/15475441.2015.1052448
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    Manuel Bohn · Josep Call · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: Iconic gestures-communicative acts using hand or body movements that resemble their referent-figure prominently in theories of language evolution and development. This study contrasted the abilities of chimpanzees (N=11) and 4-year-old human children (N=24) to comprehend novel iconic gestures. Participants learned to retrieve rewards from apparatuses in two distinct locations, each requiring a different action. In the test, a human adult informed the participant where to go by miming the action needed to obtain the reward. Children used the iconic gestures (more than arbitrary gestures) to locate the reward, whereas chimpanzees did not. Some children also used arbitrary gestures in the same way, but only after they had previously shown comprehension for iconic gestures. Over time, chimpanzees learned to associate iconic gestures with the appropriate location faster than arbitrary gestures, suggesting at least some recognition of the iconicity involved. These results demonstrate the importance of iconicity in referential communication.
    Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 10/2015; 142:1-17. DOI:10.1016/j.jecp.2015.09.001 · 3.12 Impact Factor
  • Gregor Stöber · Richard Moore · Robert Hepach · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: Though most toddlers spend an extensive amount of time in the presence of peers and siblings, the encounters they have with age-mates are qualitatively much different from the structured interactions they have with caretakers. Such differences are likely to influence how children engage in either context subsequently. Comparing children’s performance with adult and peer partners enables us to trace context-specific motivations and expectations guiding the ontogeny of mutual understanding. We tested 27-month-olds in a cooperative object-choice task in which partners took turns helping each other to locate a hidden toy by pointing out its hiding place. Under matched conditions, children were either tested in interaction with an age-mate or an adult experimenter. We found that children were significantly less likely to comply with cues offered by a peer than by an adult. In order to investigate whether children perceive or value information differently when it is provided by peers, we designed a follow-up study in which children are invited to play the same hide-and-seek game with a televised peer or adult in a semi-interactive set-up. This allows for the employment of looking time measures and the minute control of children’s experience in the test.
    IMPRS Workshop: Perspectives on the Ontogeny of Mutual Understanding, Max-Planck-Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen; 10/2015
  • Jan M Engelmann · Esther Herrmann · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: Animals react in many different ways to being watched by others. In the context of cooperation, many theories emphasize reputational effects: Individuals should cooperate more if other potential cooperators are watching. In the context of competition, individuals might want to show off their strength and prowess if other potential competitors are watching. In the current study, we observed chimpanzees and human children in three experimental conditions involving resource acquisition: Participants were either in the presence of a passive observer (observed condition), an active observer who engaged in the same task as the participant (competition condition), or in the presence of but not directly observed by a conspecific (mere presence condition). While both species worked to acquire more resources in the competition condition, children but not chimpanzees also worked to acquire more resources in the observer condition (compared to the mere presence condition). These results suggest evolutionary continuity with regard to competition-based observer effects, but an additional observer effect in young children, potentially arising from an evolutionary-based concern for cooperative reputation.
    Animal Cognition 09/2015; DOI:10.1007/s10071-015-0920-y · 2.58 Impact Factor
  • Daniel Schmerse · Elena Lieven · Michael Tomasello ·

    Journal of Child Language 09/2015; Volume 42(Issue 05):pp 1146 - 1157. · 1.41 Impact Factor
  • Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: All primates engage in one or another form of social learning. Humans engage in cultural learning. From very early in ontogeny human infants and young children do not just learn useful things from others, they conform to others in order to affiliate with them and to identify with the cultural group. The cultural group normatively expects such conformity, and adults actively instruct children so as to ensure it. Young children learn from this instruction how the world is viewed and how it works in their culture. These special forms of cultural learning enable powerful and species-unique processes of cumulative cultural evolution.
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    Manuel Bohn · Josep Call · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: There is currently debate about the extent to which non-linguistic beings such as human infants and great apes are capable of absent reference. In a series of experiments we investigated the flexibility and specificity of great apes' (N=36) and 12month-old infants' (N=40) requests for absent entities. Subjects had the choice between requesting visible objects directly and using the former location of a depleted option to request more of these now-absent entities. Importantly, we systematically varied the quality of the present and absent options. We found that great apes as well as human infants flexibly adjusted their requests for absent entities to these contextual variations and only requested absent entities when the visible option was of lower quality than the absent option. These results suggest that the most basic cognitive capacities for absent reference do not depend on language and are shared by humans and their closest living relatives. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
    Cognition 08/2015; 145:63-72. DOI:10.1016/j.cognition.2015.08.009 · 3.63 Impact Factor
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    Holger Diessel · Michael Tomasello ·

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    Julia Ulber · Katharina Hamann · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: Young children are often considered "selfish" with resources because they are reluctant to give up things already in their possession (e.g., as in dictator games). In the current two studies, we presented pairs of 18- and 24-month-old toddlers with various situations involving resources that no one possessed ahead of time. We observed very few instances of individuals attempting to monopolize the resources; rather, the pair peaceably divided them such that each child got something. Equal divisions-even involving one child sacrificing his or her own resources to establish equality-were especially pronounced when children were acting together jointly even in the absence of active collaboration. Children's divisions were also influenced by cues to ownership such as a spatial pre-division of resources and resources marked by color (and originally spatially associated with one individual). These results suggest that young children are not selfish, but instead rather generous, with resources when they are dividing them among themselves. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 08/2015; 140:228-244. DOI:10.1016/j.jecp.2015.07.009 · 3.12 Impact Factor
  • Patricia Grocke · Federico Rossano · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: When it is not possible to distribute resources equitably to everyone, people look for an equitable or just procedure. In the current study, we investigated young children's sense of procedural justice. We tested 32 triads of 5-year-olds in a new resource allocation game. Triads were confronted with three unequal reward packages and then agreed on a procedure to allocate them among themselves. To allocate the rewards, they needed to use a "wheel of fortune." Half of the groups played with a fair wheel (where each child had an equal chance of obtaining each reward package), and the other half played with an unfair wheel. We analyzed children's interactions when using the wheel and conducted an interview with each child after the game was over. Children using the unfair wheel often decided to change the rules of the game, and they also rated it as an unfair procedure in the interview. In contrast, children who played with the fair wheel were mostly accepting of both the outcome and the procedure. Overall, we found that children as young as preschool age are already sensitive not only to distributive justice but to procedural justice as well. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 08/2015; 140:197-210. DOI:10.1016/j.jecp.2015.07.008 · 3.12 Impact Factor
  • Lucas P. Butler · Marco F. H. Schmidt · Jessica Bürgel · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: Young children understand pedagogical demonstrations as conveying generic, kind-relevant information. But, in some contexts, they also see almost any confident, intentional action on a novel artefact as normative and thus generic, regardless of whether this action was pedagogically demonstrated for them. Thus, although pedagogy may not be necessary for inferences to the generic, it may nevertheless be sufficient to produce inductive inferences on which the child relies more strongly. This study addresses this tension by bridging the literature on normative reasoning with that on social learning and inductive inference. Three-year-old children learned about a novel artefact from either a pedagogical or non-pedagogical demonstration, and then, a series of new actors acted on that artefact in novel ways. Although children protested normatively in both conditions (e.g., 'No, not like that'), they persisted longer in enforcing the learned norms in the face of repeated non-conformity by the new actors. This finding suggests that not all generic, normative inferences are created equal, but rather they depend - at least for their strength - on the nature of the acquisition process. © 2015 The British Psychological Society.
    British Journal of Developmental Psychology 08/2015; DOI:10.1111/bjdp.12108 · 1.96 Impact Factor
  • Katja Karg · Martin Schmelz · Josep Call · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: In two experiments, we investigated whether chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, can use self-experience to infer what another sees. Subjects first gained self-experience with the visual properties of an object (either opaque or see-through). In a subsequent test phase, a human experimenter interacted with the object and we tested whether chimpanzees understood that the experimenter experienced the object as opaque or as see-through. Crucially, in the test phase, the object seemed opaque to the subject in all cases (while the experimenter could see through the one that they had experienced as see-through before), such that she had to use her previous self-experience with the object to correctly infer whether the experimenter could or could not see when looking at the object. Chimpanzees did not attribute their previous self-experience with the object to the experimenter in a gaze-following task (experiment 1); however, they did so successfully in a competitive context (experiment 2). We conclude that chimpanzees successfully used their self-experience to infer what the competitor sees. We discuss our results in relation to the well-known 'goggles experiment' and address alternative explanations.
    Animal Behaviour 07/2015; 105. DOI:10.1016/j.anbehav.2015.04.028 · 3.14 Impact Factor
  • Esther Herrmann · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: Humans often must coordinate co-occurring activities, and their flexible skills for doing so would seem to be uniquely powerful. In 2 studies, we compared 4- and 5-year-old children and one of humans' nearest relatives, chimpanzees, in their ability to focus and shift their attention when necessary. The results of Study 1 showed that 4-year-old children and chimpanzees were very similar in their ability to monitor two identical devices and to sequentially switch between the two to collect a reward, and that they were less successful at doing so than 5-year-old children. In Study 2, which required subjects to alternate between two different tasks, one of which had rewards continuously available whereas the other one only occasionally released rewards, no species differences were found. These results suggest that chimpanzees and human children share some fundamental attentional control skills, but that such abilities continue to develop during human ontogeny, resulting in the uniquely human capacity to succeed at complex multitasking. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2015 APA, all rights reserved).
    Journal of Comparative Psychology 07/2015; 129(3). DOI:10.1037/a0039384 · 2.34 Impact Factor
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    Robert Hepach · Amrisha Vaish · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: A central challenge of investigating the underlying mechanisms of and the individual differences in young children's behavior is the measurement of the internal physiological mechanism and the involved expressive emotions. Here, we illustrate two paradigms that assess concurrent indicators of both children's social perception as well as their emotional expression. In one set of studies, children view situations while their eye movements are mapped onto a live scene. In these studies, children's internal arousal is measured via changes in their pupil dilation by using eye tracking technology. In another set of studies, we measured children's emotional expression via changes in their upper-body posture by using depth sensor imaging technology. Together, these paradigms can provide new insights into the internal mechanism and outward emotional expression involved in young children's behavior.
    Frontiers in Psychology 07/2015; 6:858. DOI:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00858 · 2.80 Impact Factor
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    Marie Schäfer · Daniel B M Haun · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: Distributing the spoils of a joint enterprise on the basis of work contribution or relative productivity seems natural to the modern Western mind. But such notions of merit-based distributive justice may be culturally constructed norms that vary with the social and economic structure of a group. In the present research, we showed that children from three different cultures have very different ideas about distributive justice. Whereas children from a modern Western society distributed the spoils of a joint enterprise precisely in proportion to productivity, children from a gerontocratic pastoralist society in Africa did not take merit into account at all. Children from a partially hunter-gatherer, egalitarian African culture distributed the spoils more equally than did the other two cultures, with merit playing only a limited role. This pattern of results suggests that some basic notions of distributive justice are not universal intuitions of the human species but rather culturally constructed behavioral norms. © The Author(s) 2015.
    Psychological Science 06/2015; 26(8). DOI:10.1177/0956797615586188 · 4.43 Impact Factor
  • Maria Plötner · Harriet Over · Malinda Carpenter · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: Recent theoretical work has highlighted potential links between interpersonal collaboration and group membership in the evolution of human sociality. Here we compared the effects of collaboration and minimal-group membership on young children's prosocial behavior (i.e., helping and resource allocation), liking, affiliation, and trust. In a design that matched as closely as possible these two ways of connecting with others, we showed that 5-year-olds' behavior was affected similarly by collaboration and minimal-group membership; both increased children's preference for their partners on multiple dimensions and produced overall effects of a similar magnitude. In contrast, 3.5-year-olds did not have a strong preference for either collaborators or minimal in-group members. Thus, both collaboration and minimal-group membership are similarly effective in their influence on children's prosocial behavior and social preferences. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
    Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 06/2015; 139:161-173. DOI:10.1016/j.jecp.2015.05.008 · 3.12 Impact Factor
  • Katrin Riedl · Keith Jensen · Josep Call · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: An important, and perhaps uniquely human, mechanism for maintaining cooperation against free riders is third-party punishment [1, 2]. Our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, will not punish third parties even though they will do so when personally affected [3]. Until recently, little attention has been paid to how punishment and a sense of justice develop in children. Children respond to norm violations [4]. They are more likely to share with a puppet that helped another individual as opposed to one who behaved harmfully, and they show a preference for seeing a harmful doll rather than a victim punished [5]. By 6 years of age, children will pay a cost to punish fictional and real peers [6-8], and the threat of punishment will lead preschoolers to behave more generously [9]. However, little is known about what motivates a sense of justice in children. We gave 3- and 5-year-old children-the youngest ages yet tested-the opportunity to remove items and prevent a puppet from gaining a reward for second- and third-party violations (experiment 1), and we gave 3-year-olds the opportunity to restore items (experiment 2). Children were as likely to engage in third-party interventions as they were when personally affected, yet they did not discriminate among the different sources of harm for the victim. When given a range of options, 3-year-olds chose restoration over removal. It appears that a sense of justice centered on harm caused to victims emerges early in childhood and highlights the value of third-party interventions for human cooperation. Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
    Current biology: CB 06/2015; 25(13). DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2015.05.014 · 9.57 Impact Factor
  • Katja Karg · Martin Schmelz · Josep Call · Michael Tomasello ·
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    ABSTRACT: Humans often strategically manipulate the informational access of others to their own advantage. Although chimpanzees know what others can and cannot see, it is unclear whether they can strategically manipulate others' visual access. In this study, chimpanzees were given the opportunity to save food for themselves by concealing it from a human competitor and also to get more food for themselves by revealing it to a human cooperator. When knowing that a competitor was approaching, chimpanzees kept more food hidden (left it covered) than when expecting a cooperator to approach. When the experimenter was already at the location of the hidden food, they actively revealed less food to the competitor than to the cooperator. They did not actively hide food (cover up food in the open) from the competitor, however. Chimpanzees thus strategically manipulated what another could see in order to maximize their payoffs and showed their ability to plan for future situations.
    Animal Cognition 05/2015; 18(5). DOI:10.1007/s10071-015-0875-z · 2.58 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

31k Citations
2,164.39 Total Impact Points


  • 1998-2015
    • Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
      • Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology
      Leipzig, Saxony, Germany
    • University of Liverpool
      • School of Biological Sciences
      Liverpool, ENG, United Kingdom
  • 2011
    • St. Francis Xavier University
      Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada
  • 2010
    • Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
      • Courant Research Centre on the Evolution of Social Behaviour
      Göttingen, Lower Saxony, Germany
  • 2003-2009
    • The University of Manchester
      • Max Planck Child Study Centre
      Manchester, England, United Kingdom
  • 2008
    • University of Tuebingen
      Tübingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany
  • 1984-2005
    • Emory University
      • Department of Psychology
      Atlanta, Georgia, United States
  • 2004
    • Harvard University
      • Department of Anthropology
      Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States
  • 1999
    • City University of New York - College of Staten Island
      • Department of Psychology
      New York, New York, United States
  • 1997
    • University of California, Santa Cruz
      • Department of Psychology
      Santa Cruz, California, United States
  • 1996
    • University of Denver
      • Department of Psychology
      Denver, Colorado, United States
  • 1995
    • Georgia State University
      Atlanta, Georgia, United States