Mirror, Mirror: Study Says Monkeys May Recognize Their Own Images

By Andrew Moseman | October 1, 2010 9:47 am

MonkeyRecognitionLuis 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.

  • http://Untitledvanityproject.blogspot.com Rhacodactylus

    Ok, so if anyone has the answer to this I would love to know. I understand that my dog isn’t capable of recognizing himself in a mirror, but he clearly doesn’t respond as though it’s another dog anymore, so how is he dealing with it.

    It might be hard to answer without actually having read a dogs mind, but is he just sort of attenuated to it like some random object in our house, because he still watches TV?

    Ok, done with nerdy questions!


  • Lucide

    Or they just figured out that the what they’re looking at is an object that reflects.

    Personally, I don’t think consciousness can be measured by whether or not they recognize that the image is their reflection.

    But rather, its more about the recognition of an object that can show an image and realizing that the image is copying you, only on the flip side.

    If we do an experiment showing a person’s reflection… but rather in the image of something else, say an animated dog, that copies the movement, they’d still recognize it. But if we show them the animated dog doing the actions in REVERSE – they might take a while to recognize it.

    What I’m trying to say is that monkeys, babies and animals who have not seen themselves in a mirror would not recognize the image as them, hence would not notice the object as a mirror but as something like a window. They will then take longer (or at least more intelligence) to pick up the cues that the image is copying them, but on ‘different’ sides. Its worse for animals because they get distracted/ aren’t as curious/ don’t care much.

    In the end, it’d become dependent pretty much on the being’s level of curiosity, focus on the object/image and self awareness of personal movements (remember it, test it) as well as an interpretation of a reflection to realize an object of reflection before becoming fascinated by one’s reflection.

    Or am I still wrong?

  • http://kmelieny.squarespace.com/ Oscar Saleado

    Remarkable post, many thanks, I’ll save at this point you!


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