Animal Cognition

, Volume 22, Issue 6, pp 1185–1190 | Cite as

User innovation: a novel framework for studying animal innovation within a comparative context

  • Lydia M. HopperEmail author
  • Andrew W. Torrance
Short Communication


Much work has been dedicated to defining and describing animal innovation. Despite this, efforts to compare human and animal innovation have been hindered by perceived fundamental differences between how, and why, humans and animals innovate. Furthermore, there is not a useful framework for comparisons across different taxa. Here, we provide an overview of the current understanding of human ‘user’ innovation, provide some examples of user innovation, and highlight the parallels between animal innovation and user innovation by humans. User innovation, put simply, is the process by which people invent to satisfy their own needs, not necessarily with the aim of distributing their invention, or marketing it for profit. Thus, it is much more closely aligned to the manner in which nonhuman animals innovate. Our intention is that this discussion will help to re-frame how we consider animal innovation and foster more direct comparisons between human and animal innovation, while propagating new avenues for research, both experimental and observational.


User innovation Free innovation Problem solving Play Social learning 



The ideas we present here arose from discussions at meetings hosted by the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Economics and we thank the organizers of those meetings, namely Monika Gruter Cheney and Oliver Goodenough, for hosting and for providing us with a forum to present these ideas.


At the time of writing, Lydia M Hopper was supported by the Women’s Board of Lincoln Park Zoo. No other grants or funding supported the work associated with the writing of this article.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Lydia M Hopper declares that she has no conflict of interest. Andrew W Torrance declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, Lincoln Park ZooChicagoUSA
  2. 2.The University of Kansas School of LawUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA
  3. 3.MIT Sloan School of ManagementCambridgeUSA

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