Chimps and tools

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Chapter 12 endnote 24, from How Emotions are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett.
Some context is:

When you watch chimps engage in this transaction, it is tempting to infer that chimps understand the concept “Money.” But here, the token was just a tool for obtaining food, rather than a form of currency that’s exchangeable for goods in general. [...] Chimps are capable of constructing and using tools in complex ways.

By two years of age, chimps can use simple tools, such as a twig to fish termites out of their nest. By 3.5 years of age, they are able to combine two objects together to make a tool, such as using two stones to crack open a nut (one stone is the anvil and the other is the hammer). By 6.5 years of age, chimps can use a third stone to stabilize the anvil.[1] So chimps can obviously use tools.

But can they use tools that work, whose function comes not from their physical properties, but from collective intentionality (i.e., social reality)? For example, can they learn that tokens are a form of money? To be convinced that chimps understand tokens as money rather than as tools, we’d have to observe that they can create a mental concept, such as exchanging two tokens for a third token of larger value, or placing tokens in a box and waiting several days, saving up the tokens, to exchange them for food. Several experiments indicate that chimps do, in fact, save up tokens to trade for a desirable food item.[1] So they understand how to use tokens as tools. Monkeys, however, do not.[2]


Notes on the Notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 Sousa, Claudia and Tetsuro Matsuzawa. 2010. "Token use by Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): Choice, metatool, and cost." In T. Matsuzawa, M. Tomonaga, and M. Tanaka (Eds.), Cognitive Development in Chimpanzees (p. 411-438). New York: Springer.
  2. In a series of studies that received a lot of media attention, psychologist Laurie Santos showed that capuchin monkeys can learn to exchange tokens for food, and even learn to budget their tokens and gamble with their tokens... but they never learned to save.