Raphaela Heesen

In my research I focus on the evolution of the human “interaction engine”, a cognitive apparatus built for sharing intentions during joint action without the use of language (Levinson, 2006). I am particularly interested in the origin of this machinery and how certain capacities, such as turn-taking, repair-mechanisms, participation frameworks, recipient design, protection against perturbations, macro-level phases and multimodal communication enable human partners to solve coordination problems resulting from collective actions. Since it has been suggested that the interaction engine is phylogenetically older than human language, it is reasonable to assume that some of its hallmarks may be found in the primate lineage, especially in our closest relatives, the African great apes. The aim of my PhD thesis is to explore the boundaries of this human interaction engine in a great ape species, known for its cooperativeness and egalitarian social structure: bonobos, Pan paniscus. I will study the capacities of bonobos to coordinate joint actions and their motivation to cooperate in certain circumstances (i.e. different social partners and contexts). My study contributes to a larger interdisciplinary research project, serving to compare the forms of the capacities of the interaction engine across numerous species, i.e. bonobos, chimpanzees and human children. Findings will enhance our understanding of the phylogenetic origins of certain capacities linked to the interaction engine, thereby shedding light on the evolution of human language.

More information on my IPTO homepage



Raphaela Heesen

raphaela heesen


Université de Neuchâtel
Institut de Psychologie du
Travail et des Organisations
2e étage, bureau E225
Rue Emile-Argand 11
CH - 2000 Neuchâtel


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