Animal Cognition

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 113–125 | Cite as

What limits tool use in nonhuman primates? Insights from tufted capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) aligning three-dimensional objects to a surface

  • L. T. la Cour
  • B. W. Stone
  • W. Hopkins
  • C. Menzel
  • Dorothy M. FragaszyEmail author
Original Paper


Perceptuomotor functions that support using hand tools can be examined in other manipulation tasks, such as alignment of objects to surfaces. We examined tufted capuchin monkeys’ and chimpanzees’ performance at aligning objects to surfaces while managing one or two spatial relations to do so. We presented six subjects of each species with a single stick to place into a groove, two sticks of equal length to place into two grooves, or two sticks joined as a T to place into a T-shaped groove. Tufted capuchins and chimpanzees performed equivalently on these tasks, aligning the straight stick to within 22.5° of parallel to the groove in approximately half of their attempts to place it, and taking more attempts to place the T stick than two straight sticks. The findings provide strong evidence that tufted capuchins and chimpanzees do not reliably align even one prominent axial feature of an object to a surface, and that managing two concurrent allocentric spatial relations in an alignment problem is significantly more challenging to them than managing two sequential relations. In contrast, humans from 2 years of age display very different perceptuomotor abilities in a similar task: they align sticks to a groove reliably on each attempt, and they readily manage two allocentric spatial relations concurrently. Limitations in aligning objects and in managing two or more relations at a time significantly constrain how nonhuman primates can use hand tools.


Tool use Spatial reasoning Sapajus Pan troglodytes Alignment Posting task 



Supported by NIH Grants HD060563 and HD056352 to Georgia State University. The contents of this article do not necessarily represent the official views of NIH. We thank John Kelly, Jennifer Schaeffer and Jamie Russell for assistance with testing.

Supplementary material

Supplementary material 1 (MP4 1935 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (MP4 2433 kb)

Supplementary material 3 (MP4 5231 kb)

Supplementary material 4 (MP4 2198 kb)


  1. Bentley-Condit VK, Smith EO (2010) Animal tool use: current definitions and an updated comprehensive catalog. Behaviour 147(2):185–221, A1–A32Google Scholar
  2. Bernstein N (1967) The coordination and regulation of movement. Pergamon Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Bernstein N (1996) On dexterity and its development. In: Latash M, Turvey M, Bernstein N (eds) Dexterity and its development. Lawrence Erlbaum, Mahway, pp 3–237Google Scholar
  4. Biro D, Sousa C, Matsuzawa T (2006) Ontogeny and cultural propagation of tool use by wild chimpanzees at Bossou, Guinea: case studies in nut-cracking and leaf-folding. In: Matsuzawa T, Tomonaga M, Tanaka M (eds) Cognitive development in chimpanzees. Springer, New York, pp 476–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bril B, Smaers J, Steele J, Rein R, Nonaka T, Dietrich G, Biryukova E, Hirata S, Roux V (2012) Functional mastery of percussive technology in nut-cracking and stone-flaking actions: experimental comparison and implications for the evolution of the human brain. Phil Trans R Soc B 367(1585):59–74PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Call J (2010) Trapping the minds of apes: causal knowledge and inferential reasoning about object–object interactions. In: Lonsdorf E, Ross S, Matsuzawa T (eds) The mind of the chimpanzee. Chicago University Press, Chicago, pp 75–84Google Scholar
  7. Cox RFA, Smitsman AW (2006) The planning of tool-to-object relations in young children. Dev Psychobiol 48:178–186PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Falotico T (2011) Uso de ferramentas por macacos-prego (Sapajus libidinosus) do parque nacional Serra da capivara - PI [Doctoral Thesis]. Universidade de São Paulo, São Paulo, BrazilGoogle Scholar
  9. Fragaszy DM (1998) How non-human primates use their hands. In: Connolly K (ed) The psychobiology of the hand. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 77–96Google Scholar
  10. Fragaszy D, Cummins-Sebree S (2005) Relational spatial reasoning by a nonhuman: the example of capuchin monkeys. Behav Cogn Neurosci Rev 4:282–306PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Fragaszy D, Izar P, Visalberghi E, Ottoni EB, Gomes de Oliveira M (2004) Wild capuchin monkeys (Cebus libidinosus) use anvils and stone pounding tools. Am J Primatol 64:359–366PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Fragaszy DM, Stone BW, Scott NM, Menzel C (2011) How tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella spp.) and common chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) align objects to surfaces: insights into spatial reasoning and implications for tool use. Am J Primatol 73:1012–1030PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Fragaszy DM, Liu Q, Wright BW, Allen A, Brown C, Visalberghi E (2013) Bearded capuchin monkeys (Sapajus libidinosus) strategically place nuts in a stable position during nut-cracking. PLoS One 8(2):e56182. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0056182 PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gangopadhyay N, Madary M, Spicer F (eds) (2010) Perception, action and consciousness. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  15. Jeannerod M (1997) The cognitive neuroscience of action. Blackwell, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  16. Jones LA, Lederman SJ (2006) Human hand function. Oxford University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lacreuse A, Fragaszy DM (1997) Manual exploratory procedures and asymmetries for a haptic search task: a comparison between capuchins (Cebus apella) and humans. Laterality 2:247–266PubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Lederman SJ, Klatzky RL (1987) Hand movements: a window into haptic object recognition. Cogn Psychol 19:342–368PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lederman SJ, Klatzky RL (2004) Haptic identification of common objects: effects of constraining the manual exploration process. Percep Psychophys 66:618–628CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lockman JJ (2000) A perception-action perspective on tool use development. Child Dev 71:137–144PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lynch Alfaro JW, Boubli JP, Olson LE, Di Fiore A, Wilson B, Gutiérrez-Espeleta GA, Chiou KL, Schulte M, Neitzel S, Ross V, Schwochow D, Nguyen MTT, Farias I, Janson CH, Alfaro ME (2012a) Explosive Pleistocene range expansion leads to widespread Amazonian sympatry between robust and gracile capuchin monkeys. J Biogeogr 39:272–288CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Lynch Alfaro JW, de Sousa e Silva J Jr, Rylands AB (2012b) How different are robust and gracile capuchin monkeys? An argument for the use of Sapajus and Cebus. Am J Primatol 74:273–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Marzke M (1997) Precision grips, hand morphology, and tools. Am J Phys Anthro 102:91–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. McCarty ME, Clifton RK, Collard RR (2001) The beginnings of tool use by infants and toddlers. Infancy 2:233–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Michaels CF, Weier S, Harrison SJ (2007) Using vision and dynamic touch to perceive the affordances of tools. Perception 36:750–772PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Milner AD, Goodale MA (1995) The visual brain in action. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  27. Milner AD, Goodale MA (2008) Two visual systems re-viewed. Neuropsychologia 46:774–785PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Örnkloo H, von Hofsten C (2007) Fitting objects into holes: on the development of spatial cognition skills. Dev Psychol 43:404–416PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pan J, Kennedy EH, Pickering T, Menzel CR, Stone BW, Fragaszy DM (2011) Development of maze navigation by tufted capuchins (Cebus apella). Behav Process 86:206–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Penn D, Povinelli D (2007) Causal cognition in human and nonhuman animals: a comparative, critical review. Annu Rev Psychol 58:97–118PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Roux V, Bril B (2005) Stone knapping: the necessary conditions for a uniquely hominin behaviour. McDonald Institute Monographs, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  32. Sanz CM, Morgan DB (2009) Flexible and persistent tool-using strategies in honey-gathering by wild chimpanzees. Int J Primatol 30:411–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Sanz C, Boesch C, Call J (eds) (2012) Tool-use: cognitive requirements and ecological determinants. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  34. Shumaker RW, Walkup KR, Beck BB (2011) Animal tool behavior: the use and manufacture of tools by animals. Johns Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  35. Souto A, Bione CBC, Bastos M, Bezerra BM, Fragaszy D, Schiel N (2011) Critically endangered blonde capuchins fish for termites and use new techniques to accomplish the task. Biol Lett. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2011.0034 Google Scholar
  36. Street SY, James KH, Jones SS, Smith LB (2011) Vision for action in toddlers: the posting task. Child Dev 82:2083–2094PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Teleki G (1974) Chimpanzee subsistence technology: materials and skills. J Hum Evol 3:575–584CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Turvey MT (1996) Dynamic touch. Am Psychol 51:1134–1152PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Vásques P, Cano M, Acuña C (2000) Discrimination of line orientation in humans and monkeys. J Neurophysiol 83:2639–2648Google Scholar
  40. Wakita M (2008) Orientation perception in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Anim Cogn 11:535–545PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Wakita M (2012) Monkeys perceive the orientation of objects relative to the vertical axis. Anim Cogn 15:1205–1209PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. T. la Cour
    • 1
  • B. W. Stone
    • 1
  • W. Hopkins
    • 2
  • C. Menzel
    • 3
  • Dorothy M. Fragaszy
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Agnes Scott CollegeEmory UniversityDecaturUSA
  3. 3.Georgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations