Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-sjtt6 Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-15T03:31:30.551Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

14 - Bridging the Conceptual Gap between Inferential Reasoning and Problem Solving in Primates

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 July 2022

Bennett L. Schwartz
Florida International University
Michael J. Beran
Georgia State University
Get access


Although commonly treated as two separate areas of study in primate cognition, inferential reasoning and problem solving share two key features. They involve going “beyond the information given,” and they compete with associative accounts to explain observable behavior. Despite these commonalities, the study of inferential reasoning and problem solving differ in non-trivial ways from both a methodological and conceptual perspective. They use different setups and use different concepts to investigate how individuals innovate when faced with novel challenges. However, these differences, I will argue, are far less substantial than their commonalities, especially when contrasted with competing frameworks such as associative or perceptual-based accounts of behavior. In this chapter, I will review some of the most relevant empirical studies in primates on inferential reasoning and problem solving. In general, studies on inferential reasoning entail choosing from two or more alternatives to locate a hidden food item (e.g., object permanence) whereas problem-solving studies require individuals to overcome some obstacle that is blocking their access to a visible food item (e.g., tool use). I will then attempt to synthesize this information to extract the key theoretical constructs, paying particular attention to the commonalities and differences between them. Finally, I will contrast the “inferential” approach to other competing approaches (associative, perceptual) in an attempt to strengthen the ties between inferential reasoning and problem solving and propose ways to foster progress in the coming years.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Albiach-Serrano, A., Bugnyar, T., & Call, J. (2012). Apes (Gorilla gorilla, Pan paniscus, P. troglodytes, Pongo abelii) vs. corvids (Corvus corax, C. corone) in a support task: The effect of pattern and functionality. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 126, 355367.Google Scholar
Birch, H. G. (1945). The relation of previous experience to insightful problem-solving. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 38, 367383.Google Scholar
Bowden, E. M., Jung-Beeman, M., Fleck, J., & Kounios, J. (2005). New approaches to demystifying insight. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 9, 322328.Google Scholar
Call, J. (2004). Inferences about the location of food in the great apes (Pan paniscus, Pan troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla, Pongo pygmaeus). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 118, 232241.Google Scholar
Call, J. (2006a). Inferences by exclusion in the great apes: The effect of age and species. Animal Cognition, 9, 393403.Google Scholar
Call, J. (2006b). Descartes’ two errors: Reasoning and reflection from a comparative perspective. In Hurley, S., & Nudds, M. (Eds.), Rational animals (pp. 219234). Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Call, J. (2013). Three ingredients for becoming a creative tool-user. In Sanz, C. S., Call, J., & Boesch, C. (Eds.), Tool use in animals: cognition and ecology (pp. 320). Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Call, J. (2021). Avoiding the empty cup does not explain apes’ responses in the 2-cup 1-item inference by exclusion task. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
Collier-Baker, E., Davis, J. M., Nielsen, M., & Suddendorf, T. (2006). Do chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) understand single invisible displacement? Animal Cognition, 9, 5561.Google Scholar
Cunningham, C., Anderson, J., & Mootnick, A. (2011). A sex difference in effect of prior experience on object-mediated problem-solving in gibbons. Animal Cognition, 14, 599605.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Denison, S., & Xu, F. (2010). Twelve- to 14-month-old infants can predict single-event probability with large set sizes. Developmental Science, 13, 798803.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Dunbar, R. I. M., McAdam, M. R., & O’Connell, S. (2005). Mental rehearsal in great apes (Pan troglodytes and Pongo pygmaeus) and children. Behavioural Processes, 69, 323330.Google Scholar
Duncker, K. (1945). On problem-solving. Psychological Monographs, 58, 1112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ebel, S. J., & Call, J. (2018). The interplay of prior experience and motivation in great ape problem-solving (Gorilla gorilla, Pan paniscus, Pan troglodytes, and Pongo abelii). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 132, 294305.Google Scholar
Ebel, S. J., Völter, C. J., & Call, J. (2021). Prior experience mediates the usage of food items as tools in great apes (Pan paniscus, Pan troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla, and Pongo abelii). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 135, 6473.Google Scholar
Emery, N. J. (2013). Insight, imagination and invention: Tool understanding in a non-tool-using corvid. In Sanz, C. S., Call, J., & Boesch, C. (Eds.), Tool-use in animals: Cognition and ecology (pp. 6788). Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Epstein, R., Kirshnit, C. E., Lanza, R. P., & Rubin, L. C. (1984). “Insight” in the pigeon: Antecedents and determinants of an intelligent performance. Nature, 308, 6162.Google Scholar
Gopnik, A., Sobel, D. M., Schulz, L. E., & Glymour, C. (2001). Causal learning mechanisms in very young children: Two-, three-, and four-year-olds infer causal relations from patterns of variation and covariation. Developmental Psychology, 37, 620629.Google Scholar
Grether, W. F., & Maslow, A. H. (1937). An experimental study of insight in monkeys. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 24, 127134.Google Scholar
Hanus, D., & Call, J. (2008). Chimpanzees infer the location of a reward based on the effect of its weight. Current Biology, 18, R370–372.Google Scholar
Hanus, D., Mendes, N., Tennie, C., & Call, J. (2011). Comparing the performances of apes (Gorilla gorilla, Pan troglodytes, Pongo pygmaeus) and human children (Homo sapiens) in the floating peanut task. PLoS ONE, 6, e19555.Google Scholar
Harlow, H. F. (1949). The formation of learning sets. Psychological Review, 56, 5165.Google Scholar
Hauser, M. D. (1997). Artifactual kinds and functional design features: What a primate understands without language. Cognition, 64, 285308.Google Scholar
Hauser, M. D., Kralik, J., & Botto-Mahan, C. (1999). Problem solving and functional design features: Experiments on cotton-top tamarins, Saguinus oedipus. Animal Behaviour, 57, 565582.Google Scholar
Herrmann, E., & Call, J. (2012). Are there geniuses among the apes? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society London B-Biological Sciences, 367, 27532761.Google Scholar
Herrmann, E., Call, J., Hare, B., Hernandez-Lloreda, M.V., & Tomasello, M. (2007). Humans have evolved specialized skills of social cognition: The cultural intelligence hypothesis. Science, 317, 13601366.Google Scholar
Herrmann, E., Hare, B., Cissewski, J., & Tomasello, M. (2011). A comparison of temperament in nonhuman apes and human infants. Developmental Science, 14, 13931405.Google Scholar
Herrmann, E., Hernandez-Lloreda, M. V., Call, J., Hare, B., & Tomasello, M. (2010). The structure of individual differences in the cognitive abilities of children and chimpanzees. Psychological Science, 21, 102110.Google Scholar
Hopkins, W. D., Russell, J. L., & Schaeffer, J. A. (2014). Chimpanzee intelligence is heritable. Current Biology, 24, 16491652.Google Scholar
Horner, V., & Whiten, A. (2005). Causal knowledge and imitation/emulation switching in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and children (Homo sapiens). Animal Cognition, 8, 164181.Google Scholar
Kaufman, A. B., Reynolds, M. R., & Kaufman, A. S. (2019). The structure of ape (hominoidea) intelligence. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 133, 92105.Google Scholar
Köhler, W. (1925). The mentality of apes. Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
Maier, N. R. F. (1929). Reasoning in white rats. Comparative Psychology Monographs, 6, 93.Google Scholar
Maier, N. R. F., & Schneirla, T. C. (1935). Principles of animal psychology. Dover.Google Scholar
Marín Manrique, H., & Call, J. (2011). Spontaneous use of tools as straws in great apes. Animal Cognition, 14, 213226.Google Scholar
Marín Manrique, H., Gross, A. N., & Call, J. (2010). Great apes select tools based on their rigidity. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 36, 409422.Google Scholar
Marín Manrique, H., Sabbatini, G., Call, J., & Visalberghi, E. (2011). Tool choice on the basis of rigidity in capuchin monkeys. Animal Cognition, 14, 775786.Google Scholar
Martin-Ordas, G., Call, J., & Colmenares, F. (2008). Tubes, tables and traps: Great apes solve two functionally-equivalent trap tasks but show no evidence of transfer across tasks. Animal Cognition, 11, 423430.Google Scholar
Martin-Ordas, G., Jaeck, F., & Call, J. (2012). Barriers and traps: Great apes’ performance in two functionally equivalent tasks. Animal Cognition, 15, 10071013.Google Scholar
Mayer, C., Call, J., Albiach-Serrano, A., Visalberghi, E., Sabbatini, G., & Seed, A. (2014). Abstract knowledge in the broken-string problem: Evidence from nonhuman primates and pre-schoolers. PLoS ONE, 9, e108597.Google Scholar
McGonigle, B. O., & Chalmers, M. (1977). Are monkeys logical? Nature, 267, 694696.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Paukner, A., Anderson, J. R., & Fujita, K. (2006). Redundant food searches by capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella): A failure of metacognition? Animal Cognition, 9, 110117.Google Scholar
Penn, D., & Povinelli, D. (2007). Causal cognition in human and nonhuman animals: A comparative, critical review. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 97118.Google Scholar
Pepperberg, I. M. (2015). Reply to Jaakkola (2014): “Do animals understand invisible displacement? A critical review.” Journal of Comparative Psychology, 129, 198201.Google Scholar
Pepperberg, I. M., Koepke, A., Livingston, P., Girard, M., & Hartsfield, L. A. (2013). Reasoning by inference: Further studies on exclusion in grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 127, 272281.Google Scholar
Piaget, J. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. Norton.Google Scholar
Piaget, J. (1954). The construction of reality in the child. Basic Books.Google Scholar
Polizzi di Sorrentino, E., Sabbatini, G., Truppa, V., Bordonali, A., Taffoni, F., Formica, D., . . . & Visalberghi, E. (2014). Exploration and learning in capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.): The role of action-outcome contingencies. Animal Cognition, 17, 10811088.Google Scholar
Premack, D., & Premack, A. J. (1994). Levels of causal understanding in chimpanzees and children. Cognition, 50, 347362.Google Scholar
Rakoczy, H., Cluever, A., Saucke, L., Stoffregen, N., Grabener, A., Migura, J., & Call, J. (2014). Apes are intuitive statisticians. Cognition, 131, 6068.Google Scholar
Rensch, B., & Doehl, J. (1968). Spontanes ofen verschiedener Kistenverschlusse durch einen Schimpsansen. Zeitscift fur Tierpsychologie, 24, 476–89.Google Scholar
Santos, L. R., Rosati, A., Sproul, C., Spaulding, B., & Hauser, M. D. (2005). Means–means–end tool choice in cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus): Finding the limits on primates’ knowledge of tools. Animal Cognition, 8, 236246.Google Scholar
Savage-Rumbaugh, E. S., Rumbaugh, D. M., Smith, S. T., & Lawson, J. (1980). Reference: The linguistic essential. Science, 210, 922925.Google Scholar
Schmitt, V., Pankau, B., & Fischer, J. (2012). Old world monkeys compare to apes in the primate cognition test battery. PLoS ONE, 7, e32024.Google Scholar
Seed, A., & Call, J. (2009). Causal knowledge for events and objects in animals. In Watanabe, S., Blaisdell, A.P., Huber, L., & Young, A. (Eds.), Rational animals, irrational humans (pp. 173188). Keio University.Google Scholar
Seed, A. M., Hanus, D., & Call, J. (2011). Causal knowledge in apes and children: More than meets the eye? In McCormack, T., Hoerl, C., & Butterfill, S. (Eds.), Tool use and causal cognition (pp. 89111). Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Shumaker, R. W., Walkup, K. R., & Beck, B. B. (2011). Animal tool behavior. Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Sternberg, R. J., & Davidson, J. E. (Eds.) (1995). The nature of insight. MIT Press.Google Scholar
Tennie, C., Völter, C. J., Vonau, V., Hanus, D., Call, J., & Tomasello, M. (2019). Chimpanzees use observed temporal directionality to learn novel causal relations. Primates, 60, 517524.Google Scholar
Thorpe, W. H. (1956). Learning and instinct in animals. Methuen.Google Scholar
Tolman, E. C. (1932). Purposive behavior in animals and men. Appleton-Century-Crofts.Google Scholar
Tomasello, M., & Call, J. (1997). Primate cognition. Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Visalberghi, E., & Limongelli, L. (1994). Lack of comprehension of cause–effect relations in tool-using capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 108, 1522.Google Scholar
Visalberghi, E., & Trinca, L. (1989). Tool use in capuchin monkeys – Distinguishing between performing and understanding. Primates, 30, 511521.Google Scholar
Voelter, C. J., & Call, J. (2014a). Great apes (Pan paniscus, Pan troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla, Pongo abelii) follow visual trails to locate hidden food. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 128, 199208.Google Scholar
Voelter, C. J., & Call, J. (2014b). Younger apes and human children plan their moves in a maze task. Cognition, 130, 186203.Google Scholar
Voelter, C. J., & Call, J. (2017). Causal and inferential reasoning in animals. In Call, J. (Ed.), Burghardt, G. M., Pepperberg, I., Snowdon, C., & Zentall, T. (Eds.), APA handbook of comparative psychology, Vol. 2 (pp. 643671). American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
Voelter, C. J., Sentís, I., & Call, J. (2016). Great apes and children infer causal relations from patterns of variation and covariation. Cognition, 155, 3043.Google Scholar
Wertheimer, M. (1945). Productive thinking. Harper.Google Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats