If at first you don't succeed ... Studies of ontogeny shed light on the cognitive demands of habitual tool use

E. J. M. Meulman*, A. M. Seed, J. Mann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Many species use tools, but the mechanisms underpinning the behaviour differ between species and even among individuals within species, depending on the variants performed. When considering tool use 'as adaptation', an important first step is to understand the contribution made by fixed phenotypes as compared to flexible mechanisms, for instance learning. Social learning of tool use is sometimes inferred based on variation between populations of the same species but this approach is questionable. Specifically, alternative explanations cannot be ruled out because population differences are also driven by genetic and/or environmental factors. To better understand the mechanisms underlying routine but non-universal (i.e. habitual) tool use, we suggest focusing on the ontogeny of tool use and individual variation within populations. For example, if tool-using competence emerges late during ontogeny and improves with practice or varies with exposure to social cues, then a role for learning can be inferred. Experimental studies help identify the cognitive and developmental mechanisms used when tools are used to solve problems. The mechanisms underlying the route to tool-use acquisition have important consequences for our understanding of the accumulation in technological skill complexity over the life course of an individual, across generations and over evolutionary time.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20130050
Number of pages12
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. B, Biological Sciences
Volume368
Issue number1630
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2013

Keywords

  • habitual tool use
  • ontogeny
  • social learning
  • cognition
  • inhibition
  • phenotypic plasticity
  • CHIMPANZEES PAN-TROGLODYTES
  • CROWS CORVUS-MONEDULOIDES
  • CAPUCHIN MONKEYS CEBUS
  • DOLPHINS TURSIOPS SP.
  • CALEDONIAN CROWS
  • WILD CHIMPANZEES
  • LIFE-HISTORY
  • GREAT APES
  • BEHAVIORAL FLEXIBILITY
  • INDIVIDUAL VARIATION

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