New study shows use of tools supports learning in nonhuman species

Oct 15, 2013 by Alan Flurry
New study shows use of tools supports learning in nonhuman species
A juvenile capuchin monkey, right, watches an adult capuchin crack a nut. Credit: Barth W. Wright/Kansas City University

(Phys.org) —Leave young children alone with a soccer ball or a plastic shovel, and they quickly begin to put the object to use, especially if they've observed adults kicking the ball or using the shovel to dig a hole.

A new study from a group of researchers, led by University of Georgia behavioral scientist Dorothy Fragaszy, reports that artifacts—objects similar to the ball or shovel—are an important component in technical learning by nonhuman species. The study, published Oct. 7 in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, documents the work of two groups of researchers investigating cases of habitual use in wild chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys.

The two groups of researchers discovered they were working along parallel lines and observing similar findings. They organized the data from the separate species together in a special issue of the journal.

Tool use in wild animals has long been an area of broad interest among the scientific community. The researchers focused on the use of durable tools and artifacts, especially among younger individuals, to conclude that experience with tools and the opportunity to use them have an enduring impact on the of traditional technologies in nonhumans.

"The work that we are doing is strengthened by these common features in our data—that young individuals are spending a lot of time working with the artifacts that are left around by other tool users," said Fragaszy, lead author on the paper and chair of the Behavioral and Brain Sciences Program in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of psychology.

"Though artifacts are pervasive in human in culture, we are more attuned to direct instruction through teaching or even an apprenticeship. But if you're living in a social group where no one is paying attention to what you're doing, then having things around that support your learning really amplifies your learning opportunities."

Study co-author Dora Biro, a Royal Society University Research Fellow and University Lecturer in Animal Behavior in the department of zoology at the University of Oxford, England, explained, "Our work also suggests that the more durable tools are, the higher the likelihood that these artifacts will themselves scaffold learning in young. Stone tools, for example, can survive for many years—unlike most tools made from organic matter—and are thus more likely to be directly involved in the transmission of expertise across generations."

The research provides clues to certain questions about the role of language in the development of technical traditions and especially the development of human-specific cultural traditions.

"It's looking and thinking about how these nonverbal, nonspecifically human systems can support the development of traditions and cultures in nonverbal creatures," Fragaszy said.

"When the circumstances support it, and we think artifacts are an important part of these supporting circumstances, then cognitively less complex individuals-species that don't have language, that don't have explicit teaching, that don't have human forms of culture-they also can acquire and maintain complicated, technical traditions."

Explore further: Research shows Burmese long-tailed macaques' ability to use stone tools threatened by human activity in Thailand

More information: rstb.royalsocietypublishing.or… 8/1630/20120410.full

Related Stories

Canny crows know their tools

Oct 08, 2013

(Phys.org) —Scientists at the University of St Andrews have discovered that New Caledonian crows, famous for their use of tools to extract hidden food, do not rely on guesswork when deploying one of their ...

Handaxe design reveals distinct Neanderthal cultures

Aug 19, 2013

A study by a postgraduate researcher at the University of Southampton has found that Neanderthals were more culturally complex than previously acknowledged. Two cultural traditions existed among Neanderthals ...

Bonobo stone tools as competent as ancient human?

Aug 21, 2012

The great apes known as bonobos can make stone tools far more varied in purpose than previously known, reaching a level of technological competence formerly assigned only to the human lineage, according to researchers.

Recommended for you

Smarter than a first-grader?

3 hours ago

In Aesop's fable about the crow and the pitcher, a thirsty bird happens upon a vessel of water, but when he tries to drink from it, he finds the water level out of his reach. Not strong enough to knock over ...

How honey bees stay cool

15 hours ago

Honey bees, especially the young, are highly sensitive to temperature and to protect developing bees, adults work together to maintain temperatures within a narrow range. Recently published research led by ...

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

betterexists
1 / 5 (5) Oct 15, 2013
Now a days Cartoons can be made that are real looking;
Various tasks can be taught to birds & other pets by REPEATED RUNNING of Cartoons before their Cages.
Such Multimedia-based Training of Animals should not cost a dime! Bombarding them like that WITHOUT allowing any other distraction should carry over Trainer's suggestions into the Brains of Those POOR, Gullible Pets!
betterexists
1 / 5 (5) Oct 15, 2013
For that matter Puppets (i.e 3-D) resembling the Pets doing Strange Tasks before them....REPEATEDLY...i.e Indirectly Teaching them.
Sitting & Standing
Walking Left & Right...Unlike Canines going back & forth inside the cage
Meaningless Tasks too!
Will Old Adopt the suggestions or the Young?
betterexists
1 / 5 (5) Oct 15, 2013
24-hr pounding like that should lead to quick adaptation.
Sean_W
1 / 5 (5) Oct 15, 2013
24-hr pounding like that should lead to quick adaptation.


Television for pets, you mean. Pets other than the human ones, I mean.