Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 10
  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: March 2013

2 - Ecology and cognition of tool use in chimpanzees

from Part I - Cognition of tool use



Humans, as the most technological species, tend to assume that tool use is a sign of higher intelligence and that, over the course of our evolution, tools conferred a decisive advantage in the struggle to adapt to different environments (Mithen, 1996; Wynn, 2002; Wolpert, 2003; Dietrich et al., 2008). As such, animal species that use tools are considered more intelligent, while those that do not are judged as being less intelligent. This amounts to an anthropocentric judgment whereby humans adopt a human criterion to judge the adaptive skills of other species (Barrett et al., 2007; Goodrich & Allen, 2007). However, both phylogeny and ecology must be taken into account before one makes judgments about when and where we might expect tools to be used (Bluff et al., 2007; Hansell & Ruxton, 2008).

Tool use as an adaptation

Physical adaptations

If one remembers that, in most cases, tools are an extension of one’s body that allow an individual to solve tasks that cannot be solved with the body alone (Goodall, 1970; Beck, 1980; Boesch & Boesch, 1990), we must acknowledge that some primate species possess more efficient physical specializations than humans. For example, baboons have very hard, sharp teeth, which allow them to break open hard-shelled fruits that humans would be unable to open without the help of a tool (Kummer, 1968). Similarly, orangutans and gorillas, which are clearly physically stronger than humans, have been seen accessing food resources using sheer force in situations where humans would need to rely on tools (Schaik & Knott, 1996; Cipolletta et al., 2007). In addition to sheer force, it has been argued that hands help in tool use and this would then explain some of the distribution of tool use in the animal kingdom, although we should not forget that birds hold tools with their beaks and some otters use tools as well. Therefore, independent of the cognitive capacities required to use tools, tool use by animals should not be expected to occur in all situations where humans might use them. Our natural tendency to anthropomorphize hinders us from reaching a better understanding of the evolution of tool use, and it is imperative that we look directly to animals for answers about when tools might be beneficial.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Allen, C. (2002). A skeptic’s progress. Biology and Philosophy, 17, 695–702.
Ambrose, S. (2001). Paleolithic technology and human evolution. Science, 291, 1748–1753.
Ambrose, S. (2010). Coevolution of composite-tool technology, constructive memory and language: implications for the evolution of modern human behavior. Current Anthropology, 51(1), S135–S149.
Bar-Yousef, O. & van Peer, P. (2009). The chaîne opératoire approach in middle Paleolithic archeology. Current Anthropology, 50(1), 103–117.
Bar-Yousef, O., Vandermeersch, B., Arensburg, B., et al. (1992). The excavations in Kebara Cave, Mt. Carmel. Current Anthropology, 33, 497–534.
Bard, K., Myowa-Yamakoshi, M., Tomonaga, M., et al. (2005). Group differences in the mutual gaze of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Developmental Psychology, 41(4), 615–624.
Barrett, L., Henzi, P. & Rendall, D. (2007). Social brains, simple minds: does social complexity really require cognitive complexity. Philosophical Transcriptions of the Royal Society of London B, 362, 561–575.
Beck, B. B. (1980). Animal Tool Behavior. New York: Garland Press.
Bluff, L., Weir, A., Rutz, C., Wimpenny, J. & Kalcelnik, A. (2007). Tool-related cognition in New Caledonian crows. Comparative Cognition and Behavior Reviews, 2, 1–25.
Bluff, L., Troscianko, J., Weir, A., Kalcelnik, A. & Rutz, C. (2010). Tool use by wild New Caledonian crows Corvus moneduloides at natural foraging sites. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 277, 1377–1385.
Boesch, C. (2003). Is culture a golden barrier between human and chimpanzee?Evolutionary Anthropology, 12, 26–32.
Boesch, C. (2007). What makes us human (Homo sapiens)? The challenge of cognitive cross-species comparison. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 121(3), 227–240.
Boesch, C. (2010). Away from ethnocentrism and anthropocentrism: towards a scientific understanding of “what makes us human.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2/3), 26–27.
Boesch, C. (2012). From material to symbolic cultures: culture in primates. In Valsiner, J. (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Boesch, C. & Boesch, H. (1984). Mental map in wild chimpanzees: an analysis of hammer transports for nut cracking. Primates, 25, 160–170.
Boesch, C. & Boesch, H. (1990). Tool use and tool making in wild chimpanzees. Folia Primatologica, 54, 86–99.
Boesch, C. & Boesch-Achermann, H. (2000). The Chimpanzees of the Taï Forest. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Boesch, C., Marchesi, P., Marchesi, N., Fruth, B. & Joulian, F. (1994). Is nut cracking in wild chimpanzees a cultural behaviour?Journal of Human Evolution, 26, 325–338.
Boesch, C., Head, J. & Robbins, M. (2009). Complex toolsets for honey extraction among chimpanzees in Loango National Park, Gabon. Journal of Human Evolution, 56, 560–569.
Byrne, R. (1995). The Thinking Ape. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Byrne, R. (1997). The technical intelligence hypothesis: an additional evolutionary stimulus to intelligence? In Whiten, A. & Byrne, W. (eds.) Machiavellian Intelligence II: Extensions and Evaluations (pp. 289–311). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Byrne, R. (2004). The manual skills and cognition that lie behind hominid tool use. In Russon, A. & Begun, D. (eds.) The Evolution of Thought: Evolutionary Origin of Great Ape Intelligence (pp. 31–44). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Canale, G., Guidorizzi, C., Kierulff, M. and Gatto, C. (2009). First record of tool use by wild populations of the yellow-breasted capuchin monkey (Cebus xanthosternos) and new records for the bearded capuchin (Cebus libidinosus). American Journal of Primatology, 71, 366–372.
Carpendale, J. & Lewis, C. (2004). Constructing an understanding of mind: the development of children’s social understanding within social interaction. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 27, 79–151.
Carvalho, S., Cunha, E., Sousa, C. & Matsuzawa, T. (2008). Chaines opératoires and resource-exploitation strategies in chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) nut cracking. Journal of Human Evolution, 55, 148–163.
Cipolletta, C., Spagnolietti, N., Todd, A., et al. (2007). Termite feeding behavior of western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) at Bai Hokou, Central African Republic. International Journal of Primatology, 28, 457–476.
Dietrich, S., Toth, N., Schick, K. & Chaminade, T. (2008). Neural correlates of early Stone Age toolmaking: technology, language and cognition in human evolution. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B, 363, 1939–1949.
Emery, N. & Clayton, N. (2004). Mentality of crows: convergent evolution of intelligence in corvids and apes. Science, 306, 1903–1907.
Fragaszy, D. (2007). Relational spatial reasoning and tool use in capuchin monkeys. A Primatologia no Brasil, 10, 521–546.
Fragaszy, D. & Visalberghi, E. (2004). Socially biased learning in monkeys. Learning and Behavior, 32(1), 24–35.
Fragaszy, D., Kennedy, E., Murnane, A., et al. (2009). Navigating two-dimensional mazes: chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and capuchins (Cebus apella sp.) profit from experience differently. Animal Cognition, 12, 491–504.
Goodall, J. (1968). Behaviour of free-living chimpanzees of the Gombe Stream area. Animal Behaviour Monograph, 1, 163–311.
Goodall, J. (1970). Tool-using in primates and other vertebrates. In Lehrmann, D. S., Hinde, R. A. & Shaw, E. (eds.) Advances in the Study of Behavior, Vol. 3 (pp. 195–249). New York: Academic Press.
Goodrich, G. & Allen, C. (2007). Conditioned anti-anthropomorphism. Comparative Cognition and Behavior Reviews, 2, 147–150.
Greenfield, P. M. (1991). Language, tools, and the brain: the ontogeny and phylogeny of hierarchically organized sequential behavior. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 14, 531–595.
Gumert, M., Kluck, M. & Malaivijitnond, S. (2009). The physical characteristic and usage patterns of stone axe and pounding hammers used by long-tailed macaques in the Andaman Sea region of Thailand. American Journal of Primatology, 71, 594–608.
Hansell, M. & Ruxton, G. (2008). Setting tool use within the context of animal construction behaviour. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 23(2), 73–78.
Hatley, T. & Kappelman, J. (1980). Bears, pigs, and Plio-Pleistocene hominids: a case for the exploitation of belowground food resources. Human Ecology, 8, 371–387.
Heinrich, J., Heine, S. & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world?Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3, 1–75.
Hernandez-Aguilar, A., Moore, J. & Pickering, T. (2007). Savanna chimpanzees use tools to harvest the underground storage organs of plants. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 104(49), 19210–19213.
Herrmann, E., Wobber, V. & Call, J. (2008). Great apes’ (Pan troglodytes, Pan paniscus, Gorilla gorilla, Pongo pygmaeus) understanding of tool functional properties after limited experience. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 122(2), 220–230.
Huber, L. & Gajdon, G. (2006). Technical intelligence in animals: the kea model. Animal Cognition, 9, 295–305.
Hunt, G. (1996). Manufacture and use of hook-tools by New Caledonian crows. Nature, 379, 249–251.
Hunt, G., Rutledge, R. & Gray, R. (2006). The right tool for the job: what strategies do wild New Caledonian crows use?Animal Cognition, 9, 307–316.
van Ijzendoorn, M., Bard, K., Bakermans-Kranenberg, M. & Ivan, K. (2009). Enhancement of attachment and cognitive development of young nursery-reared chimpanzees in responsive versus standard care. Developmental Psychobiology, 51, 173–185.
Inoue-Nakamura, N. & Matsuzawa, T. (1997). Development of stone tool use by wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 111(2), 159–173.
Keeley, B. (2004). Anthropomorphism, primatomorphism, mammalomorphism: understanding cross-species comparisons. Biology and Philosophy, 19, 521–540.
Kenward, B., Weir, A., Rutz, C. & Kacelnik, A. (2005). Tool manufacture by naive juvenile crows. Nature, 433, 121.
Kummer, H. (1968). Social Organization of Hamadryas Baboons: A Field Study. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Laden, G. & Wrangham, R. (2005). The rise of the hominids as an adaptive shift in fallback foods: plant underground storage organs (USOs) and australopith origins. Journal of Human Evolution, 49, 482–498.
Leavens, D., Hopkins, W. & Bard, K. (2005). Understanding the point of chimpanzee pointing: epigenesis and ecological validity. Current Direction in Psychological Science, 14(4), 185–189.
Lyn, H., Russell, J. & Hopkins, W. (2010). The impact of environment on the comprehension of declarative communication in apes. Psychological Science, 21(3), 360–365.
Martin-Ordas, G. & Call, J. (2009). Assessing generalization within and between trap tasks in the great apes. International Journal of Comparative Psychology, 22, 43–60.
Martin-Ordas, G., Call, J. & Colmenares, F. (2008). Tubes, tables and traps: great apes solve two functionally equivalent trap tasks but show no evidence of transfer across tasks. Animal Cognition, 11, 423–430.
Matsuzawa, T. (2001). Primate foundations of human intelligence: a view of tool use in nonhuman primates and fossil hominids. In Matsuzawa, T. (ed.) Primate Origins of Human Cognition and Behavior (pp. 3–25). Tokyo: Springer-Verlag.
McGrew, W. (1974). Tool use by wild chimpanzees in feeding upon driver ants. Journal of Human Evolution, 3, 501–508.
McPherron, S. (2000). Handaxes as a measure of the mental capabilities of early hominids. Journal of Archaeological Science, 27, 655–663.
Mercader, J., Barton, H., Gillespie, J., et al. (2007). 4,300-year-old chimpanzee sites and the origins of percussive stone technology. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 104(9), 3043–3048.
Mithen, S. (1996). The Prehistory of Mind: The Cognitive Origin of Art and Science. London: Thames and Hudson.
Möbius, Y., Boesch, C., Koops, K., Matsuzawa, T. & Humle, T. (2008). Cultural differences in army ant predation by West African chimpanzees? A comparative study of microecological variables. Animal Behaviour, 76, 37–45.
Morgan, B. & Abwe, E. (2006). Chimpanzees use stone hammers in Cameroon. Current Biology, 16(16), R632–R633.
Moura, A. C. & Lee, P. C. (2004). Capuchin stone tool use in Caatinga dry forest. Science, 306, 1909.
Mulcahy, N. J. & Call, J. (2006). How great apes perform on a modified trap-tube task. Animal Cognition, 9, 193–199.
Nishida, T. & Hiraiwa, M. (1982). Natural history of a tool-using behaviour by wild chimpanzees in feeding upon wood-boring ants. Journal of Human Evolution, 11, 73–99.
O’Connell, S. & Dunbar, R. (2005). The perception of causality in chimpanzees (Pan spp.). Animal Cognition, 8, 60–66.
Penn, D. & Povinelli, D. (2007). Causal cognition in human and nonhuman animals: a comparative, critical review. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 97–118.
Penn, D., Holyoak, K. & Povinelli, D. (2008). Darwin’s mistake: explaining the discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 31, 109–178.
Povinelli, D. (2000). Folk Physics for Apes: The Chimpanzee’s Theory of How the World Works. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Premack, D. (2007). Human and animal cognition: continuity and discontinuity. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 104(35), 13861–13867.
Santos, L., Miller, C. & Hauser, M. (2003). Representing tools: how two non-human primate species distinguish between the functionally relevant and irrelevant features of a tool. Animal Cognition, 6, 269–281.
Santos, L., Pearson, H., Spaepen, G., Tsao, F. & Hauser, M. (2006). Probing the limits of tool competence: experiments with two non-tool-using species (Cercopithecus aethiops and Saguinus oedipus). Animal Cognition, 9, 94–109.
Sanz, C. & Morgan, D. (2009). Flexible and persistent tool-using strategies in honey-gathering by wild chimpanzees. International Journal of Primatology, 30, 411–427.
Sanz, C., Morgan, D. & Gulick, S. (2004). New insights into chimpanzees, tools, and termites from the Congo Basin. American Naturalist, 164(5), 567–581.
van Schaik, C. & Knott, C. (2001). Geographic variation in tool use on Neesia fruits in orangutans. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 114, 331–342.
Schöning, C., Humle, T., Möbius, Y. & McGrew, W. (2008). The nature of culture: technological variation in chimpanzee predation on army ants revisited. Journal of Human Evolution, 55, 48–59.
Seed, A., Emery, N. & Clayton, N. (2009a). Intelligence in corvids and apes: a case of convergent evolution?Ethology, 115, 410–420.
Seed, A., Call, J., Emery, N. & Clayton, N. (2009b). Chimpanzees solve the trap problem when the confound of tool-use is removed. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 35(1), 23–34.
Segall, M., Dasen, P., Berry, J. & Poortinga, Y. (1999). Human Behavior in Global Perspective: An Introduction to Cross-Cultural Psychology. 2nd edn. New York: Pergamon Press.
Sharon, G. (2009). Acheulian giant-core technology: a worldwide perspective. Current Anthropology, 50(3), 335–367.
Silva, F. & Silva, K. (2006). Humans’ folk physics is not enough to explain variations in their tool-using behavior. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 13(4), 689–693.
Silva, F., Page, D. & Silva, K. (2005). Methodological-conceptual problems in the study of chimpanzees’ folk physics: how studies with adult humans can help. Learning and Behaviour, 53(1), 47–58.
Souto, A., Bione, C., Bastos, M., et al. (2011). Critically endangered blonde capuchins fish for termites and use new techniques to accomplish the task. Biology Letters, 7, 532–535.
Spagnoletti, N., Visalberghi, E., Ottoni, E., Izar, P. & Fragazy, D. (2011). Stone tool use by adult wild bearded capuchin monkeys (Cebus libidinosus): frequency, efficiency and tool selectivity. Journal of Human Evolution, 61, 97–107.
Spencer, J., Smith, L. & Thelen, E. (2001). Tests of a dynamic systems account of the A-not-B error: the influence of prior experience on the spatial memory abilities of two-year-olds. Child Development, 72, 1327–1346.
Sugiyama, Y. & Koman, J. (1979). Tool-using and -making behavior in wild chimpanzees at Bossou, Guinea. Primates, 20, 513–524.
Sumita, K., Kitahara-Frisch, J. & Norikoshi, K. (1985). The acquisition of stone-tool use in captive chimpanzees. Primates, 26(2), 168–181.
Taylor, A., Hunt, G., Holzhaider, J. & Gray, R. (2007). Spontaneous metatool use by New Caledonian crows. Current Biology, 17, 1504–1507.
Tomasello, M. & Call, J. (1997). Primate Cognition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., Call, J., Behne, T. & Moll, H. (2005). Understanding and sharing intentions: the origins of cultural cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28, 675–691.
Toth, N. & Schick, K. (1993). Early stone industries and inferences regarding language and cognition. In Gibson, K. & Ingold, T. (eds.) Tools, Language and Intelligence: Evolutionary Implications (pp. 346–362). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Visalberghi, E. & Fragaszy, D. (2006). What is challenging about tool use? The capuchin’s perspective. In Wasserman, E. A. & Zentall, T. R. (eds.) Comparative Cognition: Experimental Explorations of Animal Intelligence (pp. 529–552). New York: Oxford University Press.
Visalberghi, E. & Limongelli, L. (1994). Lack of comprehension of cause–effect relations in tool-using capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 108, 15–22.
Visalberghi, E. & Tomasello, M. (1998). Primate causal understanding in the physical and psychological domains. Behavioural Processes, 42, 189–203.
Visalberghi, E. & Trinca, L. (1989). Tool use in capuchin monkeys: distinguishing between performance and understanding. Primates, 30, 511–521.
Visalberghi, E., Fragaszy, D., Ottoni, E., et al. (2007). Characteristics of hammer stones and anvils used by wild bearded capuchin monkeys (Cebus libidinosus) to crack open palm nuts. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 132, 426–444.
Visalberghi, E., Addessi, E., Truppa, V., et al. (2009). Selection of effective stone tools by wild bearded capuchin monkeys. Current Biology, 19, 213–217.
Vonk, J. & Subiaul, F. (2009). Do chimpanzees know what others can and cannot do? Reasoning about “capability.” Animal Cognition, 12, 267–286.
Wimpenny, J., Weir, A., Clayton, L., Rutz, C. & Kacelnik, A. (2009). Cognitive processes associated with sequential tool use in New Caledonian crows. PloS ONE, 4(8), e6471.
Wolfheim, J. (1983). Primates of the World: Distribution, Abundance and Conservation. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.
Wolpert, L. (2003). Causal belief and the origins of technology. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A, 361, 1709–1719.
Wynn, T. (1993). Layers of thinking in tool behavior. In Ingold, T. & Gibson, K. (eds.) Tools, Language and Intelligence: Evolutionary Implications (pp. 389–406). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wynn, T. (2002). Archeology and cognitive evolution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 25, 389–438.
Wynne, C. (2007). What are animals? Why anthropomorphism is still not a scientific approach to behavior. Comparative Cognition and Behavior Reviews, 2, 125–135.