Michael Tomasello, James F. Bonk Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience, is a leading scholar of human development, known for his research on what makes human beings unique. Tomasello studies the development of social and cognitive skills in young children, and how children’s development differs from that of the great apes, such as chimpanzees and bonobos. In particular, he studies how and why young children develop the social and cognitive skills that enable them to cooperate and communicate in especially sophisticated ways.
Tomasello’s “pioneering research on the origins of social cognition has led to revolutionary insights in both developmental psychology and primate cognition,” according to the American Psychological Association.
Tomasello’s interest in human development dates back to his years as a Duke undergraduate. He graduated from Duke in 1972 with a B.A. in psychology and returned to his alma mater in 2016.
For almost 20 years Tomasello was co-director of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. He is the author of numerous books, including “Origins of Human Communication” (MIT Press, 2008), “Why We Cooperate” (MIT Press, 2009), and most recently, “Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontology” (Harvard University Press, 2019). In 2017 he was elected to both the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His many awards include the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association and the Wiley Prize from the British Academy.