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Tool use as a way to assess cognition: how do captive chimpanzees handle the weight of the hammer when cracking a nut?

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Abstract

Tool use in apes has been considered a landmark in cognition. However, while most studies concentrate on mental operations, there are very few studies of apes’ cognition as expressed in manual skills. This paper proposes theoretical and methodological considerations on movement analysis as a way of assessing primate cognition. We argue that a privileged way of appraising the characteristics of the cognitive abilities involved in tool use lies at the functional level. This implies that we focus on how the action proceeds, and more precisely, on how the functional characteristics of the task are generated. To support our view, we present the results of an experiment with five captive chimpanzees investigating the way how chimpanzees adapt to hammers of various weights while cracking nuts. The movement performed in the hammering task is analyzed in terms of energy production. Results show that chimpanzees mobilise passive as well as active forces to perform the compliant movement, that is, they modulate the dynamics of the arm/tool system. A comparison between chimpanzees suggests that experience contributes to this skill. The results suggest that in tool use, movements are not key per se, but only in as much as they express underlying cognitive processes.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Conservative mechanics: we consider here the ideal situation where there is no friction and no dissipation of energy, i.e. the total amount of potential energy is transferred in kinetic energy and reverse.

  2. 2.

    Artificial nuts could not be used in the analysis, as it is not possible to be sure of the strength of the closing. In addition the experimenter was giving "easy opening" artificial nut to a chimpanzee when he/she showed a decrease in interest as the artificial nut contained a fruit reward. This situation aroused the interest of the chimpanzees in the experiment.

  3. 3.

    Different software could be used for such calculation and analysis. For this experiment we used integrated software developed by the second author.

  4. 4.

    This model utilised for humans does minimise the weight of the chimpanzee's hand and this should be avoided in further studies. Here only juveniles took part in the study. We may consider that they do not have the adult anthropometric characteristics yet. The underestimation has relatively little or no consequence on parameters such as the ratio E k /E p . On the other hand, it does not change the significance of the comparison between hammer conditions.

  5. 5.

    For example in a field experiment which took place in Bossou (Biro et al. 2003) the smallest stone hammers proposed to the chimpanzees to crack oil-palm, coula and panda nuts weighed 200 g, the largest weighing 5 kg. However, the study does not give the frequency of use of hammers depending on their weight. In another study, Boesch and Boesch reported that very few hammers less than 900 g were transported near the anvils. Anderson (1983) report use of 0.4–2.6 kg hammers in the Sapo forest. For Boesch et al. (1994) in the wild potential hammers weight ranges between 0.6 and 20 kg.

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for very helpful comments and suggestions. We are very grateful to Sandra Martelli for information on anthropometric data on Chimpanzees. This research has been supported by the Action Concertée Incitative TTT P7802 n° 02 2 0440 from the French Ministère Délégué à la Recherche et aux Nouvelles Technologies and the Ministry of Education Culture, Sports Science and Technology of Japan (grant for the Biodiversity Research of the 21st century COE, A14).

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Correspondence to Blandine Bril.

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MOESM1 Example of a chimpanzee cracking a Macadamia nut and a Brazil nut with a hammer weighing 0.327 kg (MPG 6102 kb)

MOESM1 Example of a chimpanzee cracking a Macadamia nut and a Brazil nut with a hammer weighing 0.327 kg (MPG 6102 kb)

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Bril, B., Dietrich, G., Foucart, J. et al. Tool use as a way to assess cognition: how do captive chimpanzees handle the weight of the hammer when cracking a nut?. Anim Cogn 12, 217–235 (2009) doi:10.1007/s10071-008-0184-x

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Keywords

  • Goal oriented action
  • Tool use
  • Adaptation
  • Movement reconstruction
  • Mechanical energy
  • Cognition
  • Chimpanzee