Tomasello Study a Top Breakthrough of 2016

Friday, December 30, 2016

Congratulations to P&N Professor Mike Tomasello and his colleagues, whose study on mind reading in great apes has been chosen as one of the top 10 breakthroughs of 2016 by Science Magazine. The Breakthrough of the Year is widely recognized as one of the highest distinctions in science.

The mind-reading skill, known as theory of mind, was previously thought to be present only in humans. The study challenges that assumption, using a man dressed in a King Kong outfit who pretends to be misinformed about the location of a rock that has been moved after he leaves the room temporarily. When the man in the suit returns, almost all of the apes in the study were focused on the box where the man falsely believes the rock is hidden. With the help of infrared eye-tracking technology, the researchers were able to pinpoint the apes’ gaze on the empty box.

Read the Science Magazine article, as well as the Duke Today story, which has links to the two study videos.

Tomasello joined Duke’s faculty as a Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience in 2016, coming from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Tomasello, who did his undergraduate work at Duke, is a world-renowned scholar on social cognition, social learning, and communication/language in human children and great apes.  All have been excited to have him back at Duke!