Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Tool for Every Job: Assessing the Need for a Universal Definition of Tool Use

  • Author(s): Crain, Benjamin J.
  • Giray, Tugrul
  • Abramson, Charles I.
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Once considered only a human behavior, reports of tool use by a variety of animals have accumulated. Likewise, various definitions of tool use have also amassed. Although some researchers argue that understanding the evolutionary drivers of tool use is more important than identifying and describing these behaviors, the central issue of defining what constitutes tool use has not been fully addressed. Here we analyze prominent definitions of tool use and review the application of these definitions in scientific and educational literature. We demonstrate that many behaviors recently described as tool use do not meet criteria for prevalent definitions, while other neglected behaviors may constitute a form of tool use. These examples show how the use of inconsistent definitions of tool use in research can result in different conclusions from the same observations. Our aim is to demonstrate that a universally acceptable definition of tool use based on traditional, evolutionary, and operational understanding of behavior is needed. The rationale is that this review will stimulate the consistent and explicit use of specific terminology in tool use research. This would help define specific examples of each natural observation from a common measuring stick, allowing better comparative studies and classification of these unique behaviors.//

Main Content
Current View