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Fyssen Foundation (2013-15)

18-month-old girl during the object play session © OUI/Nasir Hamid
18-month-old girl during the object play session

The ontogeny of physical intelligence: comparing the development of tool-use and combinatory behaviours

Problem-solving is a signature attribute of adult humans, but very little is known about how it develops in children. The goal of this project is to investigate the ontogeny of problem solving, with an emphasis on tool use, using developmental and comparative approaches.

Infants display simple problem-solving competences from very early in development. At 8-10 months, for example, babies show goal-directed behaviours such as pushing a button to activate a sound, or opening a transparent box to get an object inside it. Over the course of the second year of life, infants perform increasingly complex goal-directed actions. It is not before the end of the second year of life that they start to successfully and systematically use tools, such as using a rake to retrieve an out-of-reach object.

To understand why tool use emerges relatively late in development, and what factors are involved in this learning, we are investigating object play patterns and problem-solving behaviours across development in infants over the second year of life. 

This project is funded by a two-year post-doctoral fellowship by the Fyssen foundation, aiming to encourage the research related to the capacities to reason and more widely in the cognitive processes specific to animals and people.

To participate in this study, please get in touch at 0748 7633806 or