Luis Populin never meant to study whether monkeys recognize themselves in the mirror. As DISCOVER blogger Carl Zimmer notes at the Loom, Populin’s team was working on a different project that required putting mirrors in monkey cages to stimulate their brains. Quite by accident, he noticed that monkeys with electrodes attached by the researchers spent an awful long time gawking at themselves in the mirrors.
The researchers published their findings this week in PLoS One, in which they write:
We hypothesize that the head implant, a most salient mark, prompted the monkeys to overcome gaze aversion inhibition or lack of interest in order to look and examine themselves in front of the mirror. The results of this study demonstrate that rhesus monkeys do recognize themselves in the mirror and, therefore, have some form of self-awareness.
For a video of a monkey checking itself out in the mirror, as well as much more detail about the study, its implications, and other primatologists’ doubts about it, check out Zimmer’s post.
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Image: Populin et. al.