Young children spontaneously invent wild great apes’ tool-use behaviors

Eva Reindl, Sarah Beck, Ian Apperly, Claudio Tennie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)
115 Downloads (Pure)


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.
Original languageEnglish
Article number20152402
JournalRoyal Society of London. Proceedings B. Biological Sciences
Issue number1825
Publication statusPublished - 24 Feb 2016


  • tool use
  • problem solving
  • physical cognition
  • cognitive development
  • innovation
  • zone of latent solution


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