Friday, September 9, 2011

Day 168: Fun Fact Friday - Mirrors, Chimps, and Kids!

Mirrors are invaluable tools for understanding the human mind.  In particular, the way that humans – and some animals – react in the presence of a mirror helps us measure psychological processes, ranging from basic self-awareness to the complexities of disordered body image. 

Although most animals react to their images as if confronted by another animal, chimpanzees and orangutans (but not gorillas) show evidence of self-recognition when placed in front of a mirror.  Similarly, 2-year-old humans (but not 1-year-old humans) develop what’s called “mirror-guided self-recognition” at around the same time that they begin to show other evidence of self-awareness, such as using personal pronouns or smiling after mastering a task.  For both chimps and young children, the “mirror-guided self-recognition test” involves secretly putting a dot of red paint (for chimps) or a huge sticker (for kids) on the forehead of the research subject in question.  If the chimp/child notices the change to her appearance in the mirror – by, say, touching the paint spot, or reaching for the sticker – she has passed the test.  Woohoo!  

(Learning this, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the kids who “passed” this test got to keep their stickers. That would have made me 'smile after mastering the task!')

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  1. Apparently elephants and dolphins are the two other species that have shown this kind of mirror self-awareness:

  2. I was going to comment exact the same as lexica510. Orcas can recognize themselves in mirrors too! :)

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