Effective vision for action and effective management of concurrent spatial relations underlie skillful manipulation of objects, including hand tools, in humans. Children's performance in object insertion tasks (fitting tasks) provides one index of the striking changes in the development of vision for action in early life. Fitting tasks also tap children's ability to work with more than one feature of an object concurrently. We examine young children's performance on fitting tasks in two and three dimensions and compare their performance with the previously reported performance of adult individuals of two species of nonhuman primates on similar tasks. Two, three, and four year-old children routinely aligned a bar-shaped stick and a cross-shaped stick but had difficulty aligning a tomahawk-shaped stick to a matching cutout. Two year-olds were especially challenged by the tomahawk. Three and four year-olds occasionally held the stick several inches above the surface, comparing the stick to the surface visually, while trying to align it. The findings suggest asynchronous development in the ability to use vision to achieve alignment and to work with two and three spatial features concurrently. Using vision to align objects precisely to other objects and managing more than one spatial relation between an object and a surface are already more elaborated in two year-old humans than in other primates. The human advantage in using hand tools derives in part from this fundamental difference in the relation between vision and action between humans and other primates.
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