A Gibsonian Motor Analysis of the Nut-Cracking Technique

Part of the Primatology Monographs book series


Nut-cracking may be described as the action of choosing a stone with one hand, positioning the nut on an anvil with the other hand, and hitting the nut with a ballistic movement. A functional description of the nut-cracking action will consider the mechanical properties that must be satisfied to succeed in the task at hand, that is, the mechanical energy produced through the movement. In the wild, chimpanzees have been observed to select the appropriate tools, that is, size, shape, and material of hammer and anvil, suggesting that chimpanzees do control the functional properties of the nut-cracking task. However, these studies do not analyze how the action is processed. In this chapter, we propose to focus on the chimpanzees’ capacity to perceive the functionality of the tools and on how the functional characteristics of the task are generated. Taking a Gibsonian perspective, we discuss some dimensions of the functional coupling between the animal and its environment as can be seen in a controlled nut-cracking experiment. The behavior of the animal is analyzed at two levels of action: the choice of the best tool that fit the goal, and the capacity of the chimpanzee to adapt his or her behavior to the properties of the tool and of the nut.


Kinetic Energy Prefer Hand Captive Chimpanzee Stone Hammer Heavy Hand 



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 twenty-first century COE, A14). A fraction of this research was part of the PhD of Julie Foucart, who has left the academic world for a private position. We thank Tetsushi Nonaka for his helpful comments on an earlier version of this chapter.


  1. Biro D, Sousa C, Matsuzawa T (2006) Ontogeny and cultural propagation of tool use by wild chimpanzees at Bossou, Guinea: case studies in nut cracking and leaf folding. In: Matsuzawa T, Tomonaga M, Tanaka M (eds) Cognitive development in chimpanzees. Springer, Tokyo, pp 476–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Boesch C, Boesch H (1983) Optimisation of nut cracking with natural hammers by wild chimpanzees. Behaviour 83:265–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bongers RM (2001) An action perspective on tool use and its development. Doctoral Thesis. University of Nijmegen, NijmegenGoogle Scholar
  4. Bril B, Dietrich G, Foucart J, Fuwa K, Hirata S (2008) Tool use as a way to assess cognition: how do captive chimpanzees handle the weight of the hammer when cracking a nut. Anim Cogn. DOI:  10.1007/s10071-008-0184-x PubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Foucart J, Bril B, Hirata S, Morimura N, Houki C, Ueno Y, Matsuzawa T (2005) A preliminary analysis of nut-cracking movement in a captive chimpanzee: adaptation to the properties of tools and nuts. In: Roux V, Bril B (eds) Stone knapping: the necessary conditions for a uniquely hominid behavior. McDonald Press, Cambridge, pp 147–157Google Scholar
  6. Fushimi T, Sakura O, Matsuzawa T, Ohno H, Sugiyama Y (1991) Nut-cracking behavior of wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) in Bossou, Guinea, (West Africa). In: Ehara A, Kimura T, Takenaka O, Iwamoto M (eds) Primatology today. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 695–696Google Scholar
  7. Gibson JJ (1977) The theory of affordances. In: Shaw R, Bransford J (eds) Perceiving, acting, and knowing. Erlbaum Associates, Hillsdale, pp 67–82Google Scholar
  8. Reed ES (1996) Encountering the world. Toward an ecological psychology. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Sakura O, Matsuzawa T (1991) Flexibility of wild chimpanzee nut-cracking behavior using stone hammers and anvils: an experimental analysis. Ethology 87:237–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Sugiyama Y (1981a) Observations on the population dynamics and behavior of wild chimpanzees at Bossou, Guinea, in 1979–1980. Primates 22:435–444CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Sugiyama Y (1981b) Yasei chinpanji no sekai: Jinrui shinka heno michisuji (in Japanese). Kodansha, TokyoGoogle Scholar
  12. Sugiyama Y, Koman J (1979b) Tool-using and making behavior in wild chimpanzees at Bossou, Guinea. Primates 20:513–524CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Turvey MT (1992) Affordances and prospective control: an outline of the ontology. Ecol Psychol 4(3):173–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. van Leeuwen L, Smitsman A, van Leeuwen C (1994) Affordance, perceptual complexity, and the development of tool use. J Exp Psychol 20:174–191Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Blandine Bril
    • 1
  • Gilles Dietrich
    • 2
  • Satoshi Hirata
    • 3
  1. 1.École des Hautes Études en Sciences SocialesParisFrance
  2. 2.Université Paris DescartesParisFrance
  3. 3.Great Ape Research Institute, Hayashibara Biochemical Laboratories, Inc.TamanoJapan

Personalised recommendations