Vol 7, Issue 3, August 2020

Twenty Years after Folk Physics for Apes: Researchers' Understanding of How Nonhumans Understand the World


Vonk, J. (2020). Twenty years after folk physics for apes: Researchers’ understanding of how nonhumans understand the world. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 7(3), 264-269. https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


Povinelli (2000) published a series of careful studies probing chimpanzees’ understanding of physical causality in the book, “Folk Physics for Apes: The Chimpanzee’s theory of how the world works.” The studies and Povinelli’s conclusions regarding chimpanzee cognition had a significant impact on the field of comparative cognition. One enduring lesson from ‘Folk Physics’ was the importance of shifting from a success-testing model to a focus on understanding the mechanisms underlying subjects’ performance in research tasks. But have researchers fully embraced this lesson and has it translated to a better understanding of how other animals understand the world in the two decades that have followed? This special issue explores the evidence for causal understanding in a range of species, but it also reveals some changes in human understanding of nonhuman minds over the past 20 years.


Folk physics, Causality, Tool use, Nonhumans, Researchers