Shared intentionality


Address for correspondence: Michael Tomasello or Malinda Carpenter, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany; e-mail: or


We argue for the importance of processes of shared intentionality in children's early cognitive development. We look briefly at four important social-cognitive skills and how they are transformed by shared intentionality. In each case, we look first at a kind of individualistic version of the skill – as exemplified most clearly in the behavior of chimpanzees – and then at a version based on shared intentionality – as exemplified most clearly in the behavior of human 1- and 2-year-olds. We thus see the following transformations: gaze following into joint attention, social manipulation into cooperative communication, group activity into collaboration, and social learning into instructed learning. We conclude by highlighting the role that shared intentionality may play in integrating more biologically based and more culturally based theories of human development.