Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2011

Abstract

Studies of causal understanding of tool relationships in captive chimpanzees have yielded disparate findings, particularly those reported by Povinelli & colleagues (2000) for tool tasks by laboratory chimpanzees. The present set of experiments tested nine enculturated chimpanzees on three versions of a support task, as described by Povinelli (2000), during which food rewards were presented in different experimental configurations. In Experiment 1, stimulus pairs included a choice between a cloth with a reward on the upper right corner or with a second reward off the cloth, adjacent to a corner, with the second pair comprised of a cloth with food on the upper right corner, and a second cloth with the reward on the substrate, partially covered. All subjects were successful with both test conditions in Experiment 1. In a second study, the experimental choices included one of two possible correct options, paired with one of three incorrect options, with the three incorrect choices all involving varying degrees of perceptual containment. All nine chimpanzees scored significantly above chance across all six conditions. In Experiment 3, four unique conditions were presented, combining one of two possible correct choices with one of two incorrect choices. Six of the subjects scored significantly above chance across the four conditions, and group performance on individual conditions was also significant. Superior performance was demonstrated by female subjects in Experiment 3, similar to sex differences in tool use previously reported for wild chimpanzees and some tool tasks in captive chimpanzees. The present results for Experiments 2 & 3 were significantly differed from those reported by Povinelli et al. (2000) for laboratory-born, peer-reared chimpanzees. One contribution towards the dramatic differences between the two study populations may be the significant rearing and housing differences of the chimpanzee groups. One explanation is that under conditions of enculturation, rich social interactions with humans and conspecifics, as well as active exploration of artifacts, materials, and other aspects of their physical environment had a significant impact on the animals’ ability to recognize the support relationships among the stimulus choices. Overall, the present findings provide strong support for the hypothesis that our chimpanzee subjects based their responses on an understanding of functional support which represented one facet of their folk physics repertoire.

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