, Volume 46, Issue 2, pp 103-113
Date: 18 Sep 2004

Chimpanzees’ constructional praxis (Pan paniscus, P. troglodytes)

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Abstract

This study investigated chimpanzees’ spontaneous spatial constructions with objects and especially their ability to repeat inter-object spatial relations, which is basic to understanding spatial relations at a higher level than perception or recognition. Subjects were six chimpanzees—four chimpanzees and two bonobos—aged 6–21 years, all raised in a human environment from an early age. Only minor species differences, but considerable individual differences were found. The effect of different object samples was assessed through a comparison with a previous study. A common overall chimpanzee pattern was also found. Chimpanzees repeated different types of inter-object spatial relations such as insertion (I), or vertical (V), or next-to (H) relations. However chimpanzees repeated I or V relations with more advanced procedures than when repeating H relations. Moreover, chimpanzees never repeated combined HV relations. Compared with children, chimpanzees showed a specific difficulty in repeating H relations. Repeating H relations is crucial for representing and understanding multiple reciprocal spatial relations between detached elements and for coordinating independent positions in space. Therefore, the chimpanzees’ difficulty indicates a fundamental difference in constructive space in comparison to humans. The findings are discussed in relation to issues of spatial cognition and tool use.