Animal minds News

Children and great apes figure out tool use

Spread the love

The cottage industry attempting to show that great apes are just fuzzy people has a new one for us: From ScienceDaily:

In one of the twelve tasks, children needed to use a stick as a lever to retrieve pom poms from a small box. Similarly, great apes use twigs to remove kernels from nuts or seeds from stingy fruits. The tasks could only be solved by using a tool, but children were not told that.

Dr Claudio Tennie, Birmingham Fellow, explained, “The idea was to provide children with the raw material necessary to solve the task. We told children the goal of the task, for example to get the pom poms out of the box, but we never mentioned using the tool to them. We would then investigate whether children spontaneously came up with the correct tool behaviour on their own.”

Miss Reindl noted, “While it is true that more sophisticated forms of human tool use indeed require social learning, we have identified a range of basic tool behaviors which seem not to. Using great ape tasks, we could show that these roots of human tool culture are shared by great apes, including humans, and potentially also their last common ancestor.” More.

That common ancestor must have lived some while back. What about the octopuses who turn neatly halved coconut shells into Quonset huts? Who told them to?

See also: Does intelligence depend on a specific type of brain

Here’s the abstract:

The variety and complexity of human-made tools are unique in the animal kingdom. Research investigating why human tool use is special has focused on the role of social learning: while non-human great apes acquire tool-use behaviours mostly by individual (re-)inventions, modern humans use imitation and teaching to accumulate innovations over time. However, little is known about tool-use behaviours that humans can invent individually, i.e. without cultural knowledge. We presented 2- to 3.5-year-old children with 12 problem-solving tasks based on tool-use behaviours shown by great apes. Spontaneous tool use was observed in 11 tasks. Additionally, tasks which occurred more frequently in wild great apes were also solved more frequently by human children. Our results demonstrate great similarity in the spontaneous tool-use abilities of human children and great apes, indicating that the physical cognition underlying tool use shows large overlaps across the great ape species. This suggests that humans are neither born with special physical cognition skills, nor that these skills have degraded due to our species’ long reliance of social learning in the tool-use domain. (Public access) – E. Reindl, S. R. Beck, I. A. Apperly, C. Tennie. Young children spontaneously invent wild great apes’ tool-use behaviours. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2016; 283 (1825): 20152402 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.2402

Follow UD News at Twitter!

Leave a Reply