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Folk Physics for ApesThe Chimpanzee's theory of how the world works$
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Daniel Povinelli

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780198572190

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198572190.001.0001

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The support problem: physical connection revisited

The support problem: physical connection revisited

Folk Physics for Apes

Daniel J. Povinelli

James E. Reaux

Laura A. Teall

Steve Giambrone

Oxford University Press

This chapter presents the results of studies on the classic ‘support’ problem, originally employed by Piaget (1952). Here, the problem involves a goal object (a toy) that is out of the infant's reach, but is resting on a support (a blanket) that is within reach. The question is whether the infant appreciates that the toy can be obtained by pulling on the support. Although it has been shown that apes can immediately understand the support problem in the contact/no-contact contrast, the following studies were explicitly designed to examine their understanding of why the contact condition (the object resting on the support) is associated with obtaining the reward. The results are consistent with the idea that chimpanzees solve the support problem on the basis of quite specific perceptual features related to the spatial arrangement of food and cloth. By itself this claim is fairly uncontroversial. However, the results also support the idea that these perceptual judgements do not interact with concepts related to physical connection as the animal makes a decision to select one of the two cloths. This means that, for chimpanzees, the support problem may have nothing to do with the concept of ‘support’.

Keywords:   support problem, Piaget, physical connection, perceptual judgment

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