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Mirror test of self awareness


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Was watching a doco about this and how humans and great apes are the only species that seem to realise that their reflection in a mirror is them and that they therefore have self awareness.

 

But I was thinking about this in terms of my dog.

 

I find it very difficult to believe that Rocky does not have just as intense sense of self awareness as myself, even if he does not have the cognitive capability to project himself into his own future or perhaps even into his own past.

 

Yet according to this test, since he would not be able to recognize himself in the mirror, he therefore must have not have a sense of self awreness.

 

Surely the mirror test is more a test of the cognitive ability to reason, i.e. that since the other entity does everything that I do it must be me, rather that the existence of self awareness.

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Honestly just as there are humans who are smarter than others, there animals of other species that are smarter than others of their kind. The only difference with humans is that there is a higher standard of "normal" to deviate from, so if you deviate from a normal human capacity by even 50%, you'd still be smart enough to see in a mirror and know it's you. Though, I think many mammals and some birds and those smart reptiles like alligators and monitor lizards can know they are looking at themselves in mirrors, I find it unlikely that they wouldn't eventually notice it.

Edited by questionposter
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Honestly just as there are humans who are smarter than others, there animals of other species that are smarter than others of their kind. The only difference with humans is that there is a higher standard of "normal" to deviate from, so if you deviate from a normal human capacity by even 50%, you'd still be smart enough to see in a mirror and know it's you. Though, I think many mammals and some birds and those smart reptiles like alligators and monitor lizards can know they are looking at themselves in mirrors, I find it unlikely that they wouldn't eventually notice it.

 

 

Yeah well I would probably even question whether Rocky would be incapable of recognising that his reflection is him.

Perhaps this test of self awareness is flawed.

I wonder if it is a widely accepted diagnostic test or whether it is merely a hypothesis of some researchers.

 

 

Perhaps a better predictor of self awareness is ability to respond to instructions - birds and mammals are capable of that, probably reptiles as well based on another doco I watched about an alligator that responds to its own name being called at feeding time.

Edited by Greg Boyles
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Was watching a doco about this and how humans and great apes are the only species that seem to realise that their reflection in a mirror is them and that they therefore have self awareness.

My understanding is that there are other creatures that have thus far demonstrated self-awareness by the standard of the mirror test, for example: magpies, elephants, dolphins, orcas. I might agree that a mirror test may not be the best test of self-awareness as it assumes an anthropocentric conception of consciousness. But still, what better example and standard of self-awareness do we have? I am open to the possibility that there may be forms of self-awareness that exceed in areas where human consciousness is lacking, and yet which might have some sort of cognitive gap with respect to a mirror reflection.

Edited by Ceti Alpha V
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Yeah well I would probably even question whether Rocky would be incapable of recognising that his reflection is him.

Perhaps this test of self awareness is flawed.

I wonder if it is a widely accepted diagnostic test or whether it is merely a hypothesis of some researchers.

 

 

Perhaps a better predictor of self awareness is ability to respond to instructions - birds and mammals are capable of that, probably reptiles as well based on another doco I watched about an alligator that responds to its own name being called at feeding time.

 

Now that I think about it, a mirror really isn't that good of a test at all. It's just the recognition of a pattern: The pattern that the image in the mirror does whatever you do, and based on psychopathy in living things, it seems possible to be "smart" but not be "sentient" or have a lot of "consciousness" or at least not use it. Whether or not another animal consciously recognizes "that is my existence" in some way is probably beyond our capability to know for certain right now.

Edited by questionposter
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The mirror test is pretty highly criticized these days, although you have to give it credit for being a fairly cute attempt to demonstrate empirically what we really can't ever evaluate directly: self-awareness. If you want to know the summary of the most substantial criticism, it's simply this: the mirror test does not so much demonstrate conscious self-awareness as it does the ability to use reflective surfaces. Which is, if you ask me, a criticism damned near as cute as the test.

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The mirror test is pretty highly criticized these days, although you have to give it credit for being a fairly cute attempt to demonstrate empirically what we really can't ever evaluate directly: self-awareness. If you want to know the summary of the most substantial criticism, it's simply this: the mirror test does not so much demonstrate conscious self-awareness as it does the ability to use reflective surfaces. Which is, if you ask me, a criticism damned near as cute as the test.

 

Yes! Before reading your post, I'd been thinking - "Where do animals encounter reflective surfaces?". And isn't the answer - usually at a pool of water. An animal obviously sees its reflection in the water, when it bends down to drink. If the animal thought the reflection represented a real thing, it might react by getting frightened and running away. Then it wouldn't get to drink, and would eventually die of thirst.

 

Thus Natural Selection would cull out animals which had "reacting-to-reflection" genes. Only animals whose genes caused them to ignore the reflection, would survive to breed and reproduce.

 

Could this account for dogs taking no interest in mirrors. Dogs habitually drink by leaning over pools of water and lapping. So they'd be genetically evolved to ignore reflections.

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Yes! Before reading your post, I'd been thinking - "Where do animals encounter reflective surfaces?". And isn't the answer - usually at a pool of water. An animal obviously sees its reflection in the water, when it bends down to drink. If the animal thought the reflection represented a real thing, it might react by getting frightened and running away. Then it wouldn't get to drink, and would eventually die of thirst.

 

Thus Natural Selection would cull out animals which had "reacting-to-reflection" genes. Only animals whose genes caused them to ignore the reflection, would survive to breed and reproduce.

 

Could this account for dogs taking no interest in mirrors. Dogs habitually drink by leaning over pools of water and lapping. So they'd be genetically evolved to ignore reflections.

 

It's a decent thought, but to be honest, post-hoc evolutionary reasoning like this can be pretty dangerous. Nature cannot help but make perfect sense, but she seldom makes the kind of sense we expect her to.

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Indeed. Also in this context it is relevant to mention that the sense of animals vary widely and it is to be expected that their perception will reflect that. An animal that mostly rely on smell, for instance, may pay less interest to visual cues that do not contain olfactory components (to give a simple though example.)

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IMHO the mirror test is too human. A dog does not recognize another dog upon its appearence only, but on its smell. I guess a mirror does not smell dog. Maybe Rocky finds that you are particularly stupid to recognize yourself into a mirror.

 

Good point! It would be the the smell combined with the appearance that would trigger Rocky to give a response one way or the other. Smell is after all a major part of a dog's perception.

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The mirror test is not a good one for all animals since our senses vary wildly among different creatures. Awareness cannot be measured across the board with this test since how it is defined does not take in account each of the sensory input variation that is involved in how each species obtains their information.

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The mirror test is not a good one for all animals since our senses vary wildly among different creatures. Awareness cannot be measured across the board with this test since how it is defined does not take in account each of the sensory input variation that is involved in how each species obtains their information.

It's most helpful if people read previous posts so as not to repeat, without substantial addition or variation, the thoughts of others already expressed earlier in a thread.

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  • 1 month later...

Yes! Before reading your post, I'd been thinking - "Where do animals encounter reflective surfaces?". And isn't the answer - usually at a pool of water. An animal obviously sees its reflection in the water, when it bends down to drink. If the animal thought the reflection represented a real thing, it might react by getting frightened and running away. Then it wouldn't get to drink, and would eventually die of thirst.

 

Thus Natural Selection would cull out animals which had "reacting-to-reflection" genes. Only animals whose genes caused them to ignore the reflection, would survive to breed and reproduce.

 

 

A ) I think the dog would try the water before dying (I think Maslow, at least, would agree with me here)

B ) I think it'd get over its fear as soon after drinking it once or twice (I think Pavlov would agree)

C ) If "reacting to reflection" is a common element only in apes and humans, I would expect them to be rather late in the evolution process. Neurologically, most of what characterizes apes and humans is found in portions of the brain that dogs don't even have. But, as has been said, guessing at evolution can be a misleading form of logic.

I just Googled 'self awareness definition' it came up with "conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, and desires." It's a flexible definition, so before we conclude it's a dumb test, does anyone have the actual paper? They might have a more specific definition. Also, I'd be curious to know whether other research papers have suggested a regional or anatomical correlation in the brain between self awareness and the mirror test.

Edited by brodmannstwentysecond
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The "mirror" test does not work for many species since many don't use sight as their primary sense to obtain information from their environment. For example, a cat will not react to its reflection if standing still in front of a mirror. If the cat is moving and see its own movement it will paw at the mirror. My cat will sit in front of my computer screen if I am moving my mouse curser alot and she will follow it with her eyes. The cat's vision is limited in that it can't define the objects on a screen like we do with clarity. Cats primary mode of communication with the environment is through its sense of smell. Cats typically have a conversation by smelling each others butt and it attempts to do the same with humans but we don't want to smell their butts and will turn them around and face us.

 

Many times, I assumed that they see the world as we do, I now realize that they don't and I am curious to be able to see through their eyes. If I am sitting at my computer and my cat will meow for me from down the hall, I respond by speaking before my cat enters the room. If I don't speak or move my body when my cat enters the room, she appears she can't find me or see me until I move my body or speak to her.

Edited by kitkat
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IMHO the mirror test is too human. A dog does not recognize another dog upon its appearence only, but on its smell. I guess a mirror does not smell dog. Maybe Rocky finds that you are particularly stupid to recognize yourself into a mirror.

 

 

An animal that mostly rely on smell, for instance, may pay less interest to visual cues that do not contain olfactory components (to give a simple though example.)

 

 

The mirror test is not a good one for all animals since our senses vary wildly among different creatures. Awareness cannot be measured across the board with this test since how it is defined does not take in account each of the sensory input variation that is involved in how each species obtains their information.

 

 

 

 

It's most helpful if people read previous posts so as not to repeat, without substantial addition or variation, the thoughts of others already expressed earlier in a thread.

 

The "mirror" test does not work for many species since many don't use sight as their primary sense to obtain information from their environment.

 

 

 

Lol.

 

 

For example, a cat will not react to its reflection if standing still in front of a mirror. If the cat is moving and see its own movement it will paw at the mirror. My cat will sit in front of my computer screen if I am moving my mouse curser alot and she will follow it with her eyes. The cat's vision is limited in that it can't define the objects on a screen like we do with clarity. Cats primary mode of communication with the environment is through its sense of smell. Cats typically have a conversation by smelling each others butt and it attempts to do the same with humans but we don't want to smell their butts and will turn them around and face us.

 

Many times, I assumed that they see the world as we do, I now realize that they don't and I am curious to be able to see through their eyes. If I am sitting at my computer and my cat will meow for me from down the hall, I respond by speaking before my cat enters the room. If I don't speak or move my body when my cat enters the room, she appears she can't find me or see me until I move my body or speak to her.

 

 

It's freakin' awesome that you know that.

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Ok another one about smell and i have had cats do the same thing as kitkat cats said, they are very vocal, many people have pets and pay little attention to the pets moods but dogs do indeed react to a mirror, i gave all 7 of my basset hounds that test at least four or five times in their lives and the first time or maybe two they will react and then from then on since it has no smell it seems to have no existence for them but whether or not they realized it was themselves is open to debate.

 

I used to test my dogs all the time, they amazed me many times but there were also times I felt I knew what they were thinking... dum te dum dum..... I do love my dogs and I've had at least two display behaviors that while anecdotal are really compelling evidence dogs can think, plan, and execute behaviors that are heroic for lack of a better word and no doubt outside their normal behaviors, I think I'll continue to think my dogs can think and know who they are.... <_<

Edited by Moontanman
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Some dogs do respond to seeing their reflection in a mirror, although I'm curious whether they recognize themselves or if they think it is another, very similar looking dog because they cannot use their sense of smell to detect another dog. Here's a short video of a dog barking at its mirror reflection:

 

As mentioned, dogs have an amazing sense of smell and I'm no canine expert but I would guess they rely more on their sense of smell than sight. Rocky may not recognize himself in the mirror not because he sees himself but doesn't smell any other dog, so it is reasonable to conclude it is him. Similarly, if dogs drink from water dishes where they would see their reflection, they must not panic and run away, otherwise they won't get a chance to drink, so they intentionally or unintentionally ignore it. An additional factor to consider though is humans value their physical appearance, that is, we want to know if our hair-do looks appropriate, whether there's lettuce between our front teeth, etc... . There's a social value we place on caring for our self-image. I'm not sure if dogs have the same caring but I don't see my dog mess with his fur before he sees a female dog, although that's neither here nor there. I'm sure that if we didn't care how we looked and didn't place a great emphasis of maintaining our physical appearance for others, then we would not be concerned with our reflections in a mirror. An ideal experiment would be to find a remote tribe of humans that don't place such emphasis and observe their reactions of seeing themselves in a mirror. Alternatively, they may be in the same boat as dogs because they probably remember that it's themselves they see so they pay no attention to the reflection. As anecdotal evidence, when we first got our dogs as puppies and brought them into the house for the first time, they were hyper like puppies are and one of them did respond to seeing his reflection in the large wall mirror in my mother's room but a few years later, he doesn't.

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Anecdotally: I had a cat, when it was a kitten it used to paw at itself in the mirror and run around behind it to find the other kitten, I used to play this game with it alot. After a 1-2 years (can't remember exactly when) it stopped exhibiting this behaviour.

 

I think this could probably be tested, with many cats. It's a long experiment. But I'm not sure exactly what conclusions u could draw from it. Perhaps u could say the cat became desensitised to the other cat, perhaps u could say it realised it was the other cat.

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I admit a bias here, i think that animals exhibit all the same things we do and while some animals exhibit more complex behaviors than others but I think a great many have a sense of self, I have a dog that pouts if you make fun of him, his brothers will wear fake antlers and love the attention and praise they get but they are so funny looking with the antlers (basset hounds) you can't help but laigh, no problem for them but he sees you laughing at them and he will not do it and will growl and bark at you if you try to get him to wear them. Then if you laugh at him for not wearing them he sulks off for an hour in his bed.

 

I think animals are as conscious as they can be as an emergent property of the complexity of their brain. Bird brains are arranged differently than mammal brains and the same size rules seem not to apply to birds I wonder if some of this applies to some reptiles as well, some monitor lizards exhibit some surprising behaviors in the wild and in captivity, some birds can use human speech to actually hold a conversation of sorts with a human. The bird can count, knows words of things like his foods and people and can talk about the things he knows.

 

I think that sometimes having a life long relationship with an animal can mold some of it's behaviors over generations of close contact to resemble the dominate of the species but both affect each others behaviors to come extent.... I had a dog go get help when I got stuck in a sink hole when I was a kid, to that point everyone thought that dog was dumb as a stump.... Sudden inspiration of the dog or was it too stubborn all along to be or do what I wanted him to do but come to my aid when he saw i was really in danger? i don't know.

 

Oh! And the Merkats! ;)

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Was watching a doco about this and how humans and great apes are the only species that seem to realise that their reflection in a mirror is them and that they therefore have self awareness.

 

But I was thinking about this in terms of my dog.

 

I find it very difficult to believe that Rocky does not have just as intense sense of self awareness as myself, even if he does not have the cognitive capability to project himself into his own future or perhaps even into his own past.

 

Yet according to this test, since he would not be able to recognize himself in the mirror, he therefore must have not have a sense of self awreness.

 

Surely the mirror test is more a test of the cognitive ability to reason, i.e. that since the other entity does everything that I do it must be me, rather that the existence of self awareness.

 

i think your right, I see no reason to assume that the inability to recognise your reflection should result in this absolute. Dogs are very capable of learning basic tasks and interacting with the pack. This must mean atleast a basic sense of the self in order to inturpret the behaviour of others. This however doesn't mean that all socially interactive animals are, wilderbeast for instance, evolved to be as stupid as possible* and so I feel is unlikely to have a sense of self. Somewhere then there must excist an animal that has just an iota of awareness.

 

* they must be unintellegent in order for swam intellegence too work.

Edited by dimreepr
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I always interpreted such tests as being considered sufficient but not necessary.

If a crow uses its reflection to locate a piece of tape on one of its feathers, or an ape uses it to remove a smudge on its face then we know the animal realises the reflection is themselves.

If they don't react, we only know that they didn't react.

Was I wrong in this line of reasoning? Is a non-reaction considered positive evidence of non-self-awareness (rather than lack of evidence for self-awareness)?

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I always interpreted such tests as being considered sufficient but not necessary.

If a crow uses its reflection to locate a piece of tape on one of its feathers, or an ape uses it to remove a smudge on its face then we know the animal realises the reflection is themselves.

If they don't react, we only know that they didn't react.

Was I wrong in this line of reasoning? Is a non-reaction considered positive evidence of non-self-awareness (rather than lack of evidence for self-awareness)?

 

 

Quite right. By the way is your hat in any danger?

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