Do you recognize yourself in a mirror? Does your dog? Scientists have determined that most children recognized themselves in a mirror by the age of 2, but what about animals?
In 1970, a scientist named Gordon Gallup Jr. created the Mirror Test or MSR Test to see if animals had self-awareness. It works like this: a mark is painted on an animal in a place they cannot see, like their face, and then they are placed in front of a mirror. If the animal recognizes the mark as being something that shouldn’t be there and attempts to remove it, then they have self-awareness.
Surprisingly, ants have passed this test. Ants with no markings were placed in front of a mirror. They moved their antennae and shook their heads as though they recognized themselves. Then, a blue mark was placed on some of the ants’ heads. The ants that saw blue marks on their heads tried to remove them. When ants with blue marks were introduced to other ants, the unmarked ants noticed the blue marks and attacked the marked ants, not being able to recognize them.
Orcas and dolphins also passed the test. Orcas recognized marks on their foreheads. Dolphins stuck their tongues out at their reflections. They also swam to the edge of the pool and tried to rub the mark off because they realized that the mark should not be on them.
Scientists also tested manta rays. The manta rays were not marked. However, they waved their fins and blew bubbles at the mirror. Rays do not commonly blow bubbles.
Animals who pass the mirror test often interact with their reflection, like the manta ray or the dolphin. Some animals will also try to look at parts of themselves that they cannot typically see without a mirror.
Asian Elephants first got acquainted with the mirror by moving their heads back and forth so that their heads were visible, and then not visible. One of the elephants, named Maxine pulled her ear toward the mirror and repeatedly put her trunk in her mouth. Maxine and another elephant tried to get behind the mirror to see what was behind it. The third elephant, Happy, passed the mark test. When an ‘x’ was painted on her forehead, Happy repeatedly touched it. However, when the ‘x’ was painted on Happy in clear paint she did not touch it.
The mirror test’s credibility is sometimes debated because dogs do not use sight as much as smell. They will most likely ignore their reflection, as it does not give off a scent. However, humans and many animals have passed the mirror test, and so it is accepted as an indicator of self-awareness. See if your pet recognizes itself in a mirror!