Skip to main content

Data from: A cross-cultural investigation of young children’s spontaneous invention of tool use behaviors

Cite this dataset

Neldner, Karri et al. (2020). Data from: A cross-cultural investigation of young children’s spontaneous invention of tool use behaviors [Dataset]. Dryad.


Through the mechanisms of observation, imitation and teaching, young children readily pick up the tool using behaviors of their culture. However, little is known about the baseline abilities of children’s tool use: what they might be capable of inventing on their own in the absence of socially provided information. It has been shown that children can spontaneously invent 11 of 12 candidate tool using behaviors observed within the foraging behaviors of wild non-human apes (Reindl, Beck, Apperly, & Tennie, 2016). However, no investigations to date have examined how tool use invention in children might vary across cultural contexts. The current study investigated the levels of spontaneous tool use invention in 2- to 5 year-old children from San Bushmen communities in South Africa and children in Australia on the same 12 candidate problem-solving tasks. Children in both cultural communities correctly invented all 12 candidate tool using behaviors, suggesting that these behaviors are within the general cognitive and physical capacities of human children and can be produced in the absence of direct social learning mechanisms such as teaching or observation. Children in both cultures were more likely to invent those tool behaviors more frequently observed in great ape populations than those less frequently observed, suggesting there is similarity in the level of difficulty of invention across these behaviors for all great ape species. However, children in the Australian sample invented tool behaviors and succeeded on the tasks more often than did the Bushmen children, highlighting that aspects of a child’s social or cultural environment may influence the rates of their tool use invention on such task sets, even when direct social information is absent.

Usage notes

The spont_tool_data_RSOS_README.csv file give descriptions of all the categorical codes provided in the datasheet. 

The exact geographic location of participants was concealed to protect participant identity. 


Australian Research Council, Award: Discovery Project, DP140101410