Get access

When Does Tool Use Become Distinctively Human? Hammering in Young Children


  • We thank all the children and parents who participated in the research. This research was supported, in part, by National Institutes of Health awards 5R01HD043842 and 5R01HD067581.


This study examines the development of hammering within an ontogenetic and evolutionary framework using motion-capture technology. Twenty-four right-handed toddlers (19–35 months) wore reflective markers while hammering a peg into a peg-board. The study focuses on the motor characteristics that make tool use uniquely human: wrist involvement, lateralization, and handle use. Older children showed more distally controlled movements, characterized by relatively more reliance on the wrist, but only when hammering with their right hand. Greater age, use of the right hand, and more wrist involvement were associated with higher accuracy; handle use did not systematically change with age. Collectively, the results provide new insights about the emergence of hammering in young children and when hammering begins to manifest distinctively human characteristics.