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Primates. 2005 Apr;46(2):103-13. Epub 2004 Sep 18.

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

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Istituto di Scienze e Tecnologie della Cognizione, CNR, via U. Aldrovandi 16b, 00197, Rome, Italy.


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.

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