Course details


Tools and the Mind

SS 2021 Dr. phil. habil. Annette Hohenberger
B.Sc modules:
CS-BWP-CNP - Cognitive (Neuro-)Psychology
KOGW-WPM-KNP - Cognitive (Neuro-)Psychology
M.Sc modules:
CS-MWP-CNP - Cognitive (Neuro-)Psychology
KOGW-MWPM-KNP - Major subject Cognitive (Neuro-)Psychology

Bachelor elective course
Master elective course
Fri: 9-12

The course has no prerequisite Toolmaking is said to distinguish humans from other animals. In this seminar we will look at tools from various perspectives: evolutionary/phylogenetic, comparative, ontogenetic, and neuro-cognitive. The evolution of the hand and brain in concert with language facilitated the origins of tool use in the Paleolithic (Oldowan Industrial complex (2.6 – 1.7 mya) and Acheulean Industrial Complex (after 1.7 mya)). Manufacturing tools and using them is driven by and has driven mental representations that are hierarchical and often recursive. Many animals use tools, e.g., chimpanzees use twigs to fish for ants or rooks can bend wire into a hook shape to retrieve objects. We will look at tool innovation, manufacture, and use in apes, mammals, and big-brained birds. Tool-related behaviors engage particular areas in the brain in humans, among them the left-inferior parietal cortex, presumably for storing manipulation knowledge and/or reasoning about physical object properties. An integrative neuropsychological framework formalizes tool use activities understood as multiple problem situations in which four kinds of constraints hold: mechanics, space, time, and effort (Osiurak). Tools are interface devices and function as extensions of the (motor abilities of the) body. They are integrated into the body schema such that the user and his/her tool not only form a functional but also a bodily unit. Children start using tools early on, however, it takes surprisingly long until they can innovate a tool, e.g., bend a pipe-cleaner into a hook shape in order to retrieve a bucket from a tall jar. Only 6-8-year-old children can do this reliably. Younger children benefit from seeing the ready-made tool (the hook) or being demonstrated the bending of the pipe-cleaner. Thus, social mechanisms – social learning and imitation – play an important role in the development of tool-related behaviors.