People have long been fascinated by their own reflection. At random times during the day, people check their own reflections in shop windows or our phones. But this is not something we are born with. It is an action we develop over time. We know that children do not have this trait until they are about two years old. Their brains need time to develop, and before that, children think that they are looking at another child.
The Mirror Test
On the other hand, great apes have showcased this ability during the mirror tests. The mirror test is also known as the mark test. The way this test is performed is the researchers place an ink spot on an ape’s forehead unbeknownst to them. The primate is then put in front of a reflective surface, a mirror for example, and the ape should then recognize that something is not right in its reflection and try to remove the mark. Researchers have found a similar trait in dolphins, killer whales, and even magpies, but still, there is more research to be done if scientists are to claim this as fact.
The truth is, most primates are unable to pass this test. Because of this, for years, scientists thought that most primates are not self-aware. But recent research shows that might not be the case. This all could have been down to the methods used to test this. Until recently, it has been thought that you are aware of yourself if you can recognize your reflection in a mirror. But this has all been predicated on the fact that humans display this ability in this way.
In a recent study, it has been suggested that the tests were not done adequately. The scientist raised the question: “what if we teach the money how to use the mirror first”? If a monkey was to be taught how to use a mirror it could demonstrate self-awareness to a degree. There has not been enough research on this topic, and it is still unclear why monkeys do not possess this trait when humans and great apes do.
The study in question was divided into a few parts. The main experiment was set up to train monkeys to touch point of light that is projected onto their face. This is another form of the mirror/mark test. Over the coming weeks, most of the subjects in the experiment were able to accomplish this without much effort. The main issue with experiments like these is that the monkeys they use, the rhesus monkeys, can be trained to do a variety of things if given enough time. The same result can be achieved by training pigeons even when using food as a reward. Rhesus monkeys have even shown the ability to inspect their own genitalia in the mirror, but this is still not clear enough evidence to proclaim that they are self-aware. This is still a debated topic amongst scientist, but all of them agree that the things that can be achieved by training rhesus monkeys are amazing.
As a result of the tests, the monkeys even started to inspect their faces on their own time, when no testing was done. These told the scientists that there is a possibility that the tests have taught the monkeys to appreciate the potential uses of the mirror.
More Research Is Needed to Prove Whether Monkeys Are Self-aware
This is something that scientists have come to expect from great apes, but this behavior in monkeys has not been recorded previously.Additional studies have also shown that the sooner you introduce a monkey to the mirror the sooner it starts appreciating the various uses of it. According to some scientists, the fact that the rhesus monkeys can use a mirror is a clear sign of their self-awareness. Even though they start performing an action for a reward during testing, the monkey starts using the mirror on its own time, without the prospect of a reward.
In some tests, when the rhesus monkeys were able to score a 100 percent on the mark tests, the scientists continued to train them to use the mirror. Eventually, they learned how to use the mirror in general, not just to find the mark on their face. This, unfortunately, does not show clear signs of self-awareness but that the monkey has developed the ability to use the mirror.
The monkeys still probably do not understand what a mirror is even if they do display signs of self-awareness. We know this because there are children from less developed countries who do not pass the mark test because they have not seen a mirror before. This in no way means that these children are unaware.
People have a tendency to explain things in a way that makes the most sense for them, despite the evidence available. This makes testing even more complicated. For example, gorillas have shown the ability to recognize their own reflection. But, due to the fact that eye contact is deemed as aggressive behavior, the apes usually avoid mirrors to hide from the other gorilla or they go to a secluded space to remove the mark they saw in the mirror.
Furthermore, there are animals that use other senses as their primary. For example, rodents use smell, and because of this, they are not able to score highly on the mark test.In all honesty, the mark test does is useful and tells us a lot about an animal but expecting it to reveal whether an animal is self-aware is a tad unrealistic. It is an important piece of the puzzle though, and, soon we will be able to understand this issue.