Self-recognition in front of a mirror is used as an indicator of self-awareness. Along with humans, some chimpanzees and orangutans have been shown to be self-aware using the mark test. Monkeys are conspicuously absent from this list because they fail the mark test and show persistent signs of social responses to mirrors despite prolonged exposure, which has been interpreted as evidence of a cognitive divide between hominoids and other species. In stark contrast with those reports, the rhesus monkeys in this study, who had been prepared for electrophysiological recordings with a head implant, showed consistent self-directed behaviors in front of the mirror and showed social responses that subsided quickly during the first experimental session. The self-directed behaviors, which were performed in front of the mirror and did not take place in its absence, included extensive observation of the implant and genital areas that cannot be observed directly without a mirror. 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. Accordingly, instead of a cognitive divide, they support the notion of an evolutionary continuity of mental functions.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
A presumed cognitive divide between monkeys and ourselves disappears
In trying to understand the sequential evolutionary steps that led to our human style self awareness, much has been made of the fact that monkeys appear to fail the mirror self recognition task, while chimpanzees, along with a few other species (including dolphins, some birds, and elephants) pass the test. My Wisconsin colleague Luis Populin now finds evidence to the contrary in the rhesus monkeys used in his experiments: