Creation across culture: Children's tool innovation is influenced by cultural and developmental factors

Karri Neldner, Jonathan Redshaw, Sean Murphy, Keyan Tomaselli, Jacqueline Davis, Barnaby Dixson, Mark Nielsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Prior research suggests that human children lack an aptitude for tool innovation. However, children's tool making must be explored across a broader range of tasks and across diverse cultural contexts before we can conclude that they are genuinely poor tool innovators. To this end, we investigated children's ability to independently construct 3 new tools using distinct actions: adding, subtracting, and reshaping. We tested 422 children across a broad age range from 5 geographic locations across South Africa (N = 126), Vanuatu (N = 190), and Australia (N = 106), which varied in their levels of exposure to Westernized culture. Children were shown a horizontal, transparent tube that had a sticker in its middle. Children were sequentially given each incomplete tool, which when accurately constructed could be used to push the sticker out of the tube. As predicted, older children were better at performing the innovation tasks than younger children across all cultures and innovation actions. We also found evidence for cultural variation: While all non-Western groups performed similarly, the Western group of children innovated at higher rates. However, children who did not innovate often adopted alternate methods when using the tools that also led to success. This suggests that children's innovation levels are influenced by the cultural environment, and highlights the flexibility inherent in human children's tool use.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)877-889
Number of pages13
JournalDevelopmental Psychology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019


  • Cognitive development
  • Cross-cultural
  • Cumulative culture
  • Innovation
  • Tool manufacture

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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