Home   Publication   Stacking blocks by chimpanzees: developmental processes and physical understanding.

Misato Hayashi

Stacking blocks by chimpanzees: developmental processes and physical understanding.

Animal Cognition 10, 89-103., doi: 10.1007/s10071-006-0040-9


The stacking-block task has been used to assess cognitive development in both humans and chimpanzees. The present study reports three aspects of stacking behavior in chimpanzees: spontaneous development, acquisition process following training, and physical understanding assessed through a cylindrical-block task. Over 3 years of longitudinal observation of block manipulation, one of three infant chimpanzees spontaneously started to stack up cubic blocks at the age of 2 years and 7 months. The other two infants began stacking up blocks at 3 years and 1 month, although only after the introduction of training by a human tester who rewarded stacking behavior. Cylindrical blocks were then introduced to assess physical understanding in object–object combinations in three infant (aged 3–4) and three adult chimpanzees. The flat surfaces of cylinders are suitable for stacking, while the rounded surface is not. Block manipulation was described using sequential codes and analyzed focusing on failure, cause, and solution in the task. Three of the six subjects (one infant and two adults) stacked up cylindrical blocks efficiently: frequently changing the cylinders' orientation without contacting the round side to other blocks. Rich experience in stacking cubes may facilitate subjects' stacking of novel, cylindrical shapes from the beginning. The other three subjects were less efficient in stacking cylinders and used variable strategies to achieve the goal. Nevertheless, they began to learn the effective way of stacking over the course of testing, after about 15 sessions (75 trials).


Stacking blocks, Cognitive development, Chimpanzees, Physical understanding, Object–object combination