Object sorting into a two-dimensional array in humans and chimpanzees

Abstract

Object-sorting tasks have been used as a means of assessing the cognitive development of humans. In order to investigate cognitive development from a comparative perspective, an object-sorting task was conducted in a longitudinal face-to-face situation involving three juvenile/adolescent chimpanzees (7–9 years old) and 17 children (2–5 years old). The subjects were requested to place nine blocks of different categories (distinguished by three colors and three shapes) into the cells of a box arrayed in a three-by-three pattern. Chimpanzees showed complete or partial categorical sorting in 24–43% of pre-cued trials. The youngest children had difficulty in completing a trial by placing all nine blocks into the box. Humans older than 2 years succeeded in making a one-to-one correspondence by placing a block in each cell, while the end-state pattern remained random. The children gradually increased their rate of categorical sorting, where objects of one category were placed in the same row/column; this tendency peaked at 4 years of age. Above this age, the humans spontaneously shifted their sorting strategy to make a completely even configuration (resulting in a Latin square), which may be more cognitively demanding than categorical sorting. While chimpanzees and older children used both color and shape cues for categorical sorting, younger humans preferred to use shape cues. The results of the present study show fundamental similarities between humans and chimpanzees at the basic level of categorical sorting, which indicates that some autonomous rules are applied during object manipulation.

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Acknowledgments

This study was financially supported by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) KAKENHI nos. 23700313, 15K00204 to M. H., 16203034 to H. T., 23220006 and 15H05709 to Masaki Tomonaga, 24000001, 16H06283 and Core-to-Core Program A. (CCSN) to Tetsuro Matsuzawa, and by a Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology/JSPS Grant-in-aid for Scientific Research on Innovative Areas no. 4903 (Evolinguistics) JP17H06381 to Yasuo Ihara, 19K21824 to Michiru Makuuchi, the WISH Project, and the Benesse Corporation. The human data were collected in collaboration with Masako Myowa-Yamakoshi, Ari Ueno, Keiko Yuri, and Aya Saito, with the support of mothers and children participating in the Umikaze Infant Laboratory at the University of Shiga Prefecture. Special thanks to Academy of Emerging Sciences of Chubu University, Institute of Philosophy and Human Values of Kyoto University of the Arts, Tetsuro Matsuzawa, Masaki Tomonaga, Sana Inoue, Tomoko Takashima, Etsuko Nogami, Kiyonori Kumazaki, Norihiko Maeda, Shohei Watanabe, Atsushi Yamanaka, Juri Suzuki, Akino Watanabe, Akihisa Kaneko, and Takako Miyabe for their advice and support in performing the daily work and care of the chimpanzees at the Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University.

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Correspondence to Misato Hayashi.

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Hayashi, M., Takeshita, H. Object sorting into a two-dimensional array in humans and chimpanzees. Primates 62, 29–39 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-020-00850-1

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Keywords

  • Object sorting
  • Categorization
  • Comparative cognitive development
  • Chimpanzees