The evolution of technical intelligence: perspectives from the Hylobatidae

Clare L. Cunningham, James R. Anderson, Alan R. Mootnick

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    Gibbons and siamangs (Hylobatidae), taxonomically apes, have been largely ignored in cognitive research. However, given their unique phylogenetic position, representing an intermediary divergence between monkeys and great apes, and diversity of extant genera, they are ideally placed to study the evolution of cognitive abilities in the hominoid line. This chapter presents a brief review of what is known about the use of objects as tools in the small apes. It also evaluates their understanding of the physical world through object manipulation and tool-use, predominantly based on studies conducted over the last 6 years on gibbons and siamangs housed at the Gibbon Conservation Center (GCC) in California. In a raking-in task, gibbons evidenced potentially insightful comprehension of object relationships when tool and goal were presented in direct alignment. Once the necessary relationships between tool and goal object were not physically situated in the task layout, gibbons performed poorly. This is unexpected given the taxonomic position of the Hylobatidae and their level of cortical development. However, given their unique socio-ecological adaptations, this may reflect differences in cognitive organisation rather than deficiencies.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationEvolution of Gibbons and siamang
    Subtitle of host publicationphylogeny, morphology, and cognition
    EditorsUlrich H. Reichard, Hirohisa Hirai, Claudia Barelli
    Place of PublicationNew York
    Number of pages21
    ISBN (Electronic)9781493956142
    ISBN (Print)9781493956128
    Publication statusPublished - 20 Aug 2016

    Publication series

    NameDevelopments in Primatology: Progress and Prospects
    ISSN (Print)1574-3489
    ISSN (Electronic)1574-3497


    • Animal ecology
    • Evolutionary biology
    • Conservation biology
    • Conservation ecology
    • Neurobiology
    • Animal anatomy
    • Animal morphology
    • Animal histology


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