On the Problem of Social Determination of Tool Behavior of Higher Animals: Structure and Features of "Social Contexts”



The article provides a review and critical analysis of recent primate wild population research revealing the significance of social interactions ("social contexts") for the development and maintenance of tool behavior in animals from the perspective of the Vygotsky — Leontiev school. As social contexts, we consider the role of "skilled" group members, primarily maternal individuals, as well as artifacts of animal tool activity. We argue that these new data don’t contradict the main statements of cultural and activity psychology regarding the fundamental differences between the psychological mechanisms underlying the process of social determination of animal and humans tool activity: namely, "skilled" animals, unlike humans, do not teach or encourage intentionally the attempts of naive individuals to develop tool actions, nor form their specific ways of handling tools; young primates do not seek help and support in acquiring and performing these actions. In addition, artifacts are perceived by animals primarily as preferred objects that have certain physical characteristics, for example, for extracting food, in contrast to human children, who adopt socially accepted techniques for handling them.

General Information

Keywords: tool behavior of animals, culture, social learning, artifacts, ontogenetic niche, cultural and activity psychology

Journal rubric: Discussions and Discourses

Article type: scientific article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17759/chp.2021170412

Funding. Elena E. Sokolova’s work on this article is supported by the Russian Science Foundation grant no. 20‑18-00028.

Received: 02.11.2021


For citation: Fedorovich E.Y., Sokolova E.E. On the Problem of Social Determination of Tool Behavior of Higher Animals: Structure and Features of "Social Contexts”. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2021. Vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 107–116. DOI: 10.17759/chp.2021170412. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)


  1. Zaporozhets A.V. Deistvie i intellekt [Action and intelligence]. Zaporozhets A.V. Izbrannye psikhologicheskie trudy: v 2 t. T. 1 [Selected psychological works: in 2 vol. Vol. 1]. Moscow: Pedagogika, 1986. p. 177—190. (In Russ.).
  2. Lisina M.I. Obshchenie, lichnost’ i psikhika rebenka [Communication, personality and mind of the child]. Ruzskaya A.G. (ed.) Moscow: «Institut prakticheskoi psikhologii», 1997. 384 p. (In Russ.).
  3. Nauchnyi arkhiv RAO [Scientific archive of the Russian Academy of Education]. Coll. 82. Aids 1. Item 103. 238 p. (In Russ.).
  4. Pavlenko V.N. Ponyatiya «orudie», «psikhologicheskoe orudie», «znak» i ikh sootnoshenie [The concepts of “tool”, “psychological tool”, “sign”, their correlation]. Kul’turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2020, no. 1, pp. 122—131. (In Russ., Abstr. in Engl.). DOI: org/10.17759/chp. 2020160112
  5. Sokolova E.E., Fedorovich E.Yu. Govorit’ — eshche ne znachit byt’ chelovekom: kriticheskii analiz sovremennykh issledovanii yazyka zhivotnykh v svete idei L.S. Vygotskogo [Talking still doesn’t mean being human: a critical analysis of modern research on animal language in the light of L.S. Vygotsky’s ideas]. Natsional’nyi psikhologicheskii zhurnal = National Psychological Journal, 2016, no 3 (23), pp. 8—19. (In Russ., Abstr. in Engl.). DOI: 10.11621/npj.2016.0302
  6. Sokolova E.E., Fedorovich E.Yu. K probleme «kul’tury» u zhivotnykh: kriticheskii analiz sovremennykh issledovanii s pozitsii psikhologii deyatel’nosti shkoly A.N. Leont’eva [On the problem of “culture” in animals: a critical analysis of modern research from the perspective of the psychology of the school of A. N. Leontiev]. Kul’turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2016, no. 2, pp. 14—23. (In Russ., Abstr. in Engl.). DOI:10.17759/chp.2016120202
  7. El’konin D.B. Izbrannye psikhologicheskie trudy [Selected psychological works]. V.V. Davydov, V.P. Zinchenko (eds.). Moscow: Pedagogika, 1989. 560 p. (In Russ.).
  8. Biro D.,·Inoue-Nakamura N., Tonooka R., et al.Cultural innovation and transmission of tool use in wild chimpanzees: evidence from field experiments. Animal Cognition, 2003. Vol. 6, pp. 213—223. DOI: 10.1007/s10071-003-0183-x
  9. Boesch C. Wild cultures: a comparison between chimpanzee and human cultures. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 276 p.
  10. Burkart J., Hrdy S., van Schaik C. Cooperative breeding and human cognitive evolution. Evolutionary Anthropology, 2009. Vol. 18, pp. 175—186. DOI:10.1002/evan.20222
  11. De Petrillo F., Di Vincenzo F., Di Paolo L. An Evolutionary Perspective on Primate Social Cognition. In L. Di Paolo, F. Vincenzo, F. De Petrillo (eds.) Evolution of Primate Social Cognition. Springer: International Publishing AG, 2018, pp. 2—10.
  12. Fragaszy D. Community resources for learning: how capuchin monkeys construct technical traditions. Biological Theory, 2011. Vol. 6, pp. 231—240. DOI:10.1007/ s13752-012- 0032-8
  13. Fragaszy D., Biro D., Eshchar Y., et al. The fourth dimension of tool use: temporally enduring artefacts aid primates learning to use tools. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2013. Vol. 368: 20120410. DOI.org/10.1098/rstb.2012.0410
  14. Fragaszy D., Pickering T., Liu Q., et al. 2010. Bearded capuchin monkeys’ and a human’s efficiency at cracking palm nuts with stone tools: field experiments. Animal Behaviour, 2010. Vol. 79, pp. 321—332. DOI:10.1016/j.anbehav.2009.11.004
  15. Haslam М., Falótico T., Luncz L. Recognizing Culture in Wild Primate Tool Use. In L. Di Paolo, F. Vincenzo, F. De Petrillo (eds.) Evolution of Primate Social Cognition. Springer: International Publishing AG, 2018, pp. 202—213.
  16. Henrich J., Tennie C. Cultural Evolution in Chimpanzees and Humans. In M. Muller, R. Wrangham, D. Pilbeam (eds.) Chimpanzees and Human Evolution. Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 2017, pp. 645— 702. DOI.org/10.4159/9780674982642-018
  17. Holzhaider J., Hunt G., Gray R. Social learning in New Caledonian crows. Learning & Behavior, 2010. Vol. 38, pp. 206—219. DOI:10.3758/LB.38.3.206
  18. Humle T., Fragaszy D. Cognition and tool use. In C. Campbell, A. Fuentes, K. MacKinnon, et al. (eds.) Primates in perspective. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 637—661.
  19. Humle T., Newton-Fisher N. Culture in non-human primates: Definition and evidence. In R.Ellen, S. Lycett, S. Johns (eds.) Understanding cultural transmission: a critical anthropological synthesis. Berghahn Books, 2013, pp. 80—101.
  20. Humle T., Snowdon C., Matsuzawa T. Social influences on ant-dipping acquisition in the wild chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes verus) of Bossou, Guinea, West Africa. Animal Cognition, 2009. Vol. 12, pp. 37—48. DOI: 10.1007/s10071- 009-0272-6
  21. Koops K. Cultural differences in ant-dipping tool length between neighbouring chimpanzee communities at Kalinzu, Uganda. Scientific Reports, 2015. Vol. 5: 12456. DOI: 10.1038/srep12456
  22. Koops K., Furuichi T., Hashimoto C. Chimpanzees and bonobos differ inintrinsic motivation for tool use. Scientific Reports, 2015. Vol. 5: 11356. DOI: 10.1038/srep11356
  23. Laland K., O’Brien M. Cultural niche construction: an introduction. Biological Theory, 2011. Vol. 6, pp. 191—202. doi:10.1007/s13752-012-0026-6
  24. Leca J., Gunst N, Huffman M. Thirty years of stone handling tradition in Arashiyama macaques: implications for cumulative culture and tool use in non-human primates. In J.- B. Leca, M. Huffman, P. Vasey (eds.) The monkeys of Stormy Mountain: 60 years of primatological research on the Japanese macaques of Arashiyama. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012, pp. 223—257
  25. Mann J., Patterson E. Tool use by aquatic animals. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences, 2013. Vol. 368: 20120424. doi:10.1098/rstb.2012.0424
  26. Matsuzawa T. Primate foundations of human intelligence: a view of tool use in nonhuman primates and fossil hominids. In T. Matsuzawa (ed.) Primate origins of human cognition and behavior. Tokyo, Japan: Springer, 2001, pp. 11—14.
  27. Mercader J., Barton H., Gillespie J., et al. 4,300-Year-old chimpanzee sites and the origins of percussive stone technology. PNAS, 2007. Vol. 104 (9), pp. 3043—3048. DOI:org/10.1073/pnas.0607909104
  28. Moore R. Social learning and teaching in chimpanzees. Biology and Philosophy, 2013. Vol. 28 (6), pp. 879—901. DOI: 10.1007/s10539-013-9394-y
  29. Odling-Smee J., Laland K., Feldman M. Niche construction. The neglected process in evolution. Princeton; Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2003. DOI:10.2307/j. ctt24hqpd
  30. Ottoni E. Tool use traditions in nonhuman Primates: the case of tufted capuchin Monkeys. Human Ethology Bulletin — Proc. of the XXII. ISHE Conference, 2015, pp. 22—40.
  31. Renner E., Zawidzki Т. Minimal Cognitive Preconditions on the Ratchet. In L. Di Paolo, F. Vincenzo, F. De Petrillo (eds.) Evolution of Primate Social Cognition. Springer: International Publishing AG, 2018, pp. 249—266.
  32. Sargeant B., Mann J. Developmental evidence for foraging traditions in wild bottlenose dolphins. Animal Behaviour, 2009. Vol. 78, pp. 715—721. DOI:10.1016/j. anbehav. 2009.05.037
  33. Shettleworth S. Fundamentals of comparative cognition. Oxford University Press, 2013. 176 p.
  34. Seyfarth R., Cheney D. How sociality shapes the brain, behaviour, and cognition. Animal Behaviour, 2015. Vol. 103, pp. 187—190. DOI: 10.1016/J.ANBEHAV.2015.01.026
  35. van Schaik C., Fox E., Fechtman L. Individual variation in the rate of use of tree-hole tools among wild orangutans: implications for hominin evolution. Journal of Human Evolution, 2003. Vol. 44, pp. 11—23. DOI:10.1016/ S0047-2484(02)00164-1
  36. Whiten A., Goodall J., McGrew C., Boesch C. Cultures in chimpanzees. Nature, 1999. Vol. 399(6737), pp. 682—685. DOI: 10.1038/21415
  37. Whiten A., van de Waal E. The pervasive role of social learning in primate lifetime development. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 2018. Vol. 72, P: 80 (1—16). DOI. org/10.1007/s00265-018-2489-3

Information About the Authors

Elena Y. Fedorovich, PhD in Psychology, Researcher, Institute for Social Sciences, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6596-1262, e-mail: labzoo_fedorovich@mail.ru

Elena E. Sokolova, Doctor of Psychology, Associate Professor, Department of General Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2239-0858, e-mail: ees-msu@mail.ru



Total: 202
Previous month: 6
Current month: 0


Total: 95
Previous month: 7
Current month: 0