What Chimpanzees Know about Seeing, Revisited: An Explanation of the Third Kind

Josep Call*, Michael Tomasello

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

5 Citations (Scopus)


Chimpanzees follow the gaze of conspecifics and humans -follow it past distractors and behind barriers, 'check back' with humans when gaze following does not yield interesting sights, use gestures appropriately depending on the visual access of their recipient, and select different pieces of food depending on whether their competitor has visual access to them. Taken together, these findings make a strong case for the hypothesis that chimpanzees have some understanding of what other individuals can and cannot see. However, chimpanzees do not seem nearly so skillful in the Gesture Choice and Object Choice experimental paradigms. Neither behavioral conditioning nor theory of mind explanations can account for these results satisfactorily. Instead this chapter proposes the idea that chimpanzees have the cognitive skills to recall, represent, categorize, and reason about the behavior and perception of others, but not their intentional or mental states, because they do not know that others have such states since they cannot make a link to their own. Human beings began their own evolutionary trajectory with these same skills, but then at some point in their evolution (probably quite recently) they began to understand that their own experience could serve as some kind of model for that of other persons. This allowed for even better prediction and control of the behavior of others and better communication and cooperation with them as well, and so it was an adaptation with immediate adaptive consequences that ensured its survival.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationJoint Attention Communication and Other Minds
Subtitle of host publicationIssues in Philosophy and Psychology
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780191715303
ISBN (Print)9780199245635
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2010


  • Chimpanzee
  • Gaze-following
  • Intentionality
  • Non-human primates
  • Theory of mind


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