Ape Tool-Use Studies

Monitoring chimpanzee and gorilla tool use gives Fisher Center scientists an excellent opprotunity to study how these animals learn.

Monitoring Tool Use to Study Social Learning

Social learning describes how one animal can learn a new skill by observing the actions of another. By presenting apes with a novel task, researches can observe whether they rely on trial-and-error learning or whether they learn from—and copy—the actions of group mate who already knows how to solve the task.

Great ape tool use offers an excellent way to study social learning. Chimpanzees use tools for more purposes than any other animal except humans. In contrast, gorillas are rarely known to use tools in the wild. However, the absence of tool-use behavior doesn’t mean an animal is incapable of social learning. 

To understand more about how apes learn and develop tool-use skills, scientists at the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes observe apes using an artificial termite mound that contains various types of treats that the apes can only access using stick-tools. Beyond revealing tool-use ability, this research also highlights what apes understand about the other members of their social group, how they manage and maintain social relationships, and whether they are able to learn from the behavior of others.


Staff

Lydia Hopper, Ph.D., is a research scientist in Lincoln Park Zoo's Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes

Lydia Hopper, Ph.D.
Research Scientist, Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes

Laura Kurtcyz is a research assistant in Lincoln Park Zoo's Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes.

Laura Kurtycz
Research Assistant, Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes

Steve Ross, Ph.D., is director of Lincoln Park Zoo's Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes

Steve Ross, Ph.D.
Director, Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes

Kristin Bonnie, Ph.D., is an adjunct scientist in Lincoln Park Zoo’s Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes

Kristin Bonnie, Ph.D.
Adjunct Scientist
Assistant Professor of Psychology, Beloit College