Precise digit use increases the expression of handedness in Colombian spider monkeys (Ateles fusciceps rufiventris)

Am J Primatol. 2015 Dec;77(12):1253-62. doi: 10.1002/ajp.22478. Epub 2015 Sep 4.


Decades of research on the hand use patterns of nonhuman primates can be aptly summarized by the following phrase: measurement matters. There is a general consensus that simple reaching is a poor indicator of handedness in most species, while tasks that constrain how the hands are used elicit individual, and in some cases, population-level biases. The TUBE task has become a popular measure of handedness, although there is variability in its administration across studies. The goal of this study was to investigate whether TUBE performance is affected by tube diameter, with the hypothesis that decreasing tube diameter would increase task complexity, and therefore the expression of handedness. We predicted that hand preference strength, but not direction, would be affected by tube diameter. We administered the TUBE task using a 1.3 cm tube to Colombian spider monkeys, and compared their performance to a previous study using a larger 2.5 cm diameter tube. Hand preference strength increased significantly on the smaller diameter tube. Hand preference direction was not affected. Notably, spider monkeys performed the TUBE task using a single digit, despite the longstanding view that this species has poor dexterity. We encourage investigators who use the TUBE task to carefully consider the diameter of the tube used in testing, and to report digit use consistently across studies. In addition, we recommend that researchers who cannot use the TUBE task try to incorporate the key features from this task into their own species appropriate measures: bimanual coordination and precise digit use.

Keywords: hand preference; handedness; hemispheric specialization; laterality; spider monkey.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Atelinae / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Hand / physiology
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology