Stacking of irregularly shaped blocks in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and young humans (Homo sapiens)

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Stacking blocks provides a way to evaluate cognitive development in humans and other species using the same comparative measures. The present study used regular cubic blocks as well as cubic blocks with bumps on two sides. The bumps changed the physical properties of the blocks and increased the difficulty involved in stacking them. Subjects were required to choose the appropriate orientation for stacking the blocks. Three juvenile chimpanzees and 14 human children (aged 2–3 years) were tested under identical task settings in a face-to-face situation. The goal of a trial was to stack up four blocks (two cubic blocks and two cubic blocks with bumps). The results showed initial difficulty in stacking the blocks with bumps in both chimpanzees and humans. Experienced juvenile chimpanzees and humans older than 3 years became proficient at solving the task. Behavioral strategies adopted to succeed in the task were common to both species. The subjects spontaneously adopted a strategy of stacking as the last block of the tower a block with a bump facing upwards. The subjects also showed active change in the orientation of the blocks when necessary, although correct orientation changes were infrequent especially during the early phases of experiment. The results are discussed in the context of the underlying cognitive development in the domain of physical understanding in both species.

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The study was supported by grants from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and Japan Society for Promotion of Science (#19700245 to MH, #16203034 to HT, #16002001 and #20002001 to Matsuzawa, and global COE programs D07 and A06) and from the Benesse Corporation. The human data were collected in collaboration with Masako Myowa-Yamakoshi, Keiko Yuri, and Aya Saito with the support of mothers and children participating in the “Umikaze” Infant Laboratory of the University of Shiga Prefecture. Special thanks are due to Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Masaki Tomonaga, Masayuki Tanaka, Wataru Sato, Tatyana Humle, Dora Biro, Sana Inoue, Tomoko Takashima, Etsuko Nogami, Kiyonori Kumazaki, Norihiko Maeda, Shohei Watanabe, Juri Suzuki, Akino Kato, Akihisa Kaneko, and Takako Miyabe for their great advice and support in conducting the daily work and care of chimpanzees at the Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University.

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Correspondence to Misato Hayashi.

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This contribution is part of the Supplement Issue “The Chimpanzee Mind” (Matsuzawa 2009).

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S1 Chimpanzee succeeds in stacking up all four blocks after many attempts in the first session (MPG 6466 kb)

S1 Chimpanzee succeeds in stacking up all four blocks after many attempts in the first session (MPG 6466 kb)

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Hayashi, M., Takeshita, H. Stacking of irregularly shaped blocks in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and young humans (Homo sapiens). Anim Cogn 12, 49–58 (2009) doi:10.1007/s10071-009-0273-5

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  • Chimpanzees
  • Stacking blocks
  • Physical understanding