Functional fixedness in chimpanzees

Sonja J. Ebel, Christoph J. Völter, Alejandro Sánchez-Amaro, Katharina A. Helming, Esther Herrmann, Josep Call

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Differences in the tool use of non-human primates and humans are subject of ongoing debate. In humans, representations of object functions underpin efficient tool use. Yet, representations of object functions can lead to functional fixedness, which describes the fixation on a familiar tool function leading to less efficient problem solving when the problem requires using the tool for a new function. In the current study, we examined whether chimpanzees exhibit functional fixedness. After solving a problem with a tool, chimpanzees were less efficient in solving another problem which required using the same tool with a different function compared to a control group. This fixation effect was still apparent after a period of nine months and when chimpanzees had learned about the function of a tool by observation of a conspecific. These results suggest that functional fixedness in our closest living relatives likely exists and cast doubt on the notion that stable function representations are uniquely human.
Original languageEnglish
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusAccepted for publication - 20 May 2024

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