The mirror self-recognition test - which animals are self-aware?steemCreated with Sketch.

in science •  11 months ago

The mirror self-recognition test (MSR).

Probably most of you might have heard of the mirror self-recognition test (MSR), developed in 1970 by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr as a method to judge if animals are aware of themselves, respectively know who they are.[1]

There exist several variations of this test but the principle is always more or less the same: the test animals are getting marked without noticing it, for example by painting them a colorful spot on their face or using a sticker while they are anaesthetized. Later they are placed in front of a mirror to observe their behavior.

Most animals either attack, greet or ignore their own mirror image which means they don't recognize themselves. However, a few species remove the mark from their own face which is a clear hint that they recognize themselves in the mirror. It is controversial discussed what exactly we can deduce from a passed mirror test.

Source: by Georgia Pinaud, Lille, France.

Which animals are able to pass it?

Species which have passed the mirror test[2] are:

  • The great apes bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas in general pass the mirror test, whereby not every single individual is successful. Especially many gorillas have failed. One possible reason could be that these animals normally avoid eye contact so that they may just not look long enough to recognize themselves in the mirror. Other reasons are discussed as well, where one of them could be that gorillas react very sensitively when they feel being observed. "Ironically, it may have been the gorillas' very capacity for self-consciousness that prevented them from exhibiting behaviours indicative of self-recognition in the test situation."[3]
    (Other than great apes, rhesus monkeys don't realize whom they see in a mirror, but can learn it after some practicing.[4])

  • Asian elephants are able to pass the test,[5] whereas again not every single individual passes. One explanation could be that elephants just don't care so much to remove something unnatural from their body.

  • bottlenose dolphins behave uncommon in front of a mirror like making repetitious head circling, sticking out their tongues, and inspecting the marking.[6]
    Orca whales seemed to anticipate that their images would look different than before after being marked which also indicates that they knew very well to see themselves in the mirror.[7]

  • Some birds like Eurasian magpies[8], pigeons[9] and keas[10] have passed the mirror test, as well.

  • It is not yet fully clear if also giant manta rays are self-aware. In front of a mirror contingency checking and self-directed behaviors have been observed.[11]

  • Do you still remember my series about the "Intelligence of insects", part I[12] and part II[13]? Then you may be a little bit less surprised that at least ants ot the genus Myrmica seem to be able to pass the mirror test as well! While watching other ants through glass didn't affect them, in front of a mirror they showed unusual behavior like turning their heads back and forth, shaking their antennae as well as retreating and reapproaching the mirror. Finally they tried to remove blue marks from their clypeuses (instead to attack this strange blue ant) which is a clear sign of self-awareness. Online the source "Marie-Claire Cammaerts, Roger Cammaerts. Are ants (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) capable of self recognition? // Journal of Science. 2015. V. 5 (7). P. 521–532." is only available in Russian.[14]

Of course the list of self-recognizing animals may get longer after more research has been done.

What about strange creatures like humans and robots? :-)

Human babies definitely pass the mirror test when they are between 20 to 24 months old.[15]

Finally I would like to cast a very short glance into the sector of artificial intelligence. Has the aim of creating self-aware robots already been reached?

There is research on robots 'recognizing themselves' in a mirror - just build your own opinion, but in my eyes that's not yet comparable with what we are capable of.[16]

Maybe even more interesting is that at Ransselaer Polytechnic Institute in the US a robot has passed another classic self-awareness test (where no mirror comes into play): three "Nao robots" were programmed to think that two of them were given a "dumbing pill" (in reality a button on top of their heads is responsible for the pill-effect). And indeed, two robots got 'pills' which made them silent, whereas the third pill was a 'placebo'.
Then the robots were asked which kind of 'pill' they had received. Of course only one of them was able to answer ... First it replied "I don't know", but then immediately corrected his answer "Sorry, I know now, I was able to prove that I was not given the dumbing pill."
That's nothing special at all? For a machine it is: being able to give the correct answer requires to listen and understand a question, to hear and recognize its own voice and then understand that one himself can be the only one amongst the robots which must have spoken and thus has received the 'placebo'.[17]

Dogs pass the sniff test instead of the mirror test.

We have to be careful when interpreting the results of mirror tests! As egocentric humans we tend to consider ourself as the measure of all things which can lead to wrong conclusions.

One example are the results of dogs in the mirror test. To make it short: they fail, and initially scientists concluded that our companion animals are just not self-aware. However, other than us, dogs perceive a bigger part of their sensory input not through their eyes, but by their ears and especially their sensitive noses ... but a mirror image neither barks nor smells like a dog.

Meanwhile dogs have redeemed their good reputation: as scientists recently have shown, dogs react if their own olfactory 'image' was modified. They are "investigating their own odour for longer when it had an additional odour accompanying it than when it did not. Such behaviour implies a recognition of the odour as being of or from 'themselves'".[18]
Not taking into account that dogs recognize themselves by means of their smell (not of their look) resulted in the wrong assumption they had no consciousness of self.


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hope you dont mind to put a link to your lovely written article.
as you mentioned gorillas reaction is one of the best


Wow that is super interesting!


I already saw that one before but it was a fun re-watch.

Nice post @jaki01! I don't think I knew about ants.


This is super interesting

Interesting information! It’s great to know the results of the mirror self-recognition test of those animals and robot. Really amazing!

I just learnt from your article that, “dogs recognize themselves by means of their smell (not of their look)”! Interesting! I love to see video when the dogs are looking at the mirrors! Really funny!

Thanks so much for sharing! Great work! ;)

That's a cool post! I didn't know about this.

Do you know whether tests on cats have been undertaken? You mentioned dogs, but nothing about cats :)


I also like cats, but unfortunately they don't pass the classic mirror test. However, I could imagine that maybe the reasons for that are similar ones like in the case of dogs ... and maybe by changing the experimental arrangement they also could succeed ...? Somebody should try it out ...


No cat at home. Only kids (and for those, we know already the answer) :D

A fascinating post. Although this isn't an equivalent test, a few of these reactions reveal a surprising degree of cognition.

o that s nice
i didn't know that :)

"I don't know", but then immediately corrected his answer "Sorry, I know now, I was able to prove that I was not given the dumbing pill."

That's one smart robot :)

ahh I like how you pointed out that dogs use smell to recognize themselves and others! :) There are many ways to be considered self-aware and intelligent.

Thanks for that super interesting post. I have always wondered about the animal mirror thing.

Completely overlooked this article, but then @SteemSTEM distilled caught it for me. Great work! I love this topic and was actually considering writing about it, but you beat me to the punch. The dog test in particular was a cool finding. I had read about a similar test in dogs that tested their reaction to modifying their urine (, but I overlooked the study you mentioned. Again, excellent post!


Yes, interesting, too!

It is a great study to know about these mirror tests

Really appreciate this article. Never thought birds would pass the mirrow test. Dolphins yes; Apes yes; Dogs no indeed. AI; the one you describe is the turning test done last year I believe? Indeed AI is not as aware as we humans are, and maybe not as apes, dolphins and other animals with some sense of awareness, but I think AI will develop itself very quickly to a state it can become much more aware and self aware than most of us believe AI can reach.

@jaki01 - Sir this is the 1st time I understood about this research well.... I have seen it few times in TV programs but never understood it well.... Useful article you just shared Sir....
To get more audience, I wish to ReSteem your post.

+W+ [UpVoted & ReSteemed]

wow great test

really nice & mind touch

interesting test

Excellent Post.

this was really an interesting post to read

Totally agree

Very interesting knowledge post .keep posting and upvoted

Very educative blog, thanks , upvoted

excellent article with a lot of unknown information. impressive work @jaki01


wow a nice dog my friend, who's that dog

I'll try that test on me. Probably I'll hit the mirror & say 'WTF is this' lol :) Nice post~

It's a post of animsl..with AI
Thank's for sharing

Robots passed the test. That's a pretty cool thing. Nice article with interesting details.

~Followed & Upvoted

dogs are very inteligents animale ....

Actually I never heard about this before! Thank you very much for sharing such interesting article with us!


good article - thanks :)
also following and upvoted you.

Nice post. thanks for sharing.
(((((((( Resteem service)))))))))

Great post congrats :)
Upvoted and Resteem!

Cutty dog

Very interesting post.
Upvote Resteem

Excellent post.
For your post propagation.

Interesting information! It’s great to know the results of the mirror self-recognition test of those animals and robot. Really amazing! post..

Te votado y comentado me vas a seguir

I am visit your link....../////

I also, haven't heard about this test. Interesting. More interesting about the last test you mentioned in case of robot. That artificial intelligence can do that? really amazing.

I'm guilty of trying this with my dumb-ass cat over and over LOL of course without success.

Oh I just realized you continued these series! Nice! Ok... Vav. V. ee? Vee. I will get it! :D

wow this is really cool,,,,,,,,
interesting post .......///////.........../////////

Did not have any idea of this kind of Test but thanks and got to know some intelligent animals got to pass the Test .


In case the information was interesting you may consider to upvote the article. :)


Thanks buddy will do ,I guess i was restoring my Vp
Done now !

i saw some nice video's about cats reacting very scary haha


They must be scared to death :-D

Very very educative post. Am happy to read it again and again. Thanks


In case you liked the post you actually might consider to upvote it. :)

Thanks following

I simply love your articles, what great content and quality of posting you offer the community here on Steemit and abroad.

Thanks a lot :)


Thanks a lot ... I am glad to hear that you like to read them. :)

Congratulations @jaki01, this post is the tenth most rewarded post (based on pending payouts) in the last 12 hours written by a Superhero or Legend account holder (accounts hold greater than 100 Mega Vests). The total number of posts by Superhero and Legend account holders during this period was 35 and the total pending payments to posts in these categories was $1577.29. To see the full list of highest paid posts across all accounts categories, click here.

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great job.


If the job was "great" you may consider to upvote the article. :)

Exellent explanation and very useful information - thank you @jaki01


Unfortunately as I see your voting power is reserved for 'other things' (I won't go into detail here) than upvoting "useful information". Thus my voting power is also reserved for upvoting other comments. :)


My friend @jaki01
There are no other things, I have never reached 100% of the voting power, I'm trying to get now. I do not give anyone any votes for the last 2 days. tip! 0.1


OK, then let me make it clearer: the majority of your upvotes is self-voting. That's legitimate of course, but I don't intend to reward it. :)

Steemit is designed as a platform where people upvote other people whose content they like. That's the difference for example compared to Facebook where only one person benefits ...

I don't expect you to upvote my articles, but in case you like them (as you state in your comment), what prevents you from doing it?


I am a man who gives everyone voices, to everyone I love and follow, you are new to my list and therefore you have a wrong picture about me. I earn more from the comments and support I give through voting than from my posts. You're just telling me about what I do not like, you have a totally wrong picture of me, my friend @jaki01 Look at my history and you see that I'm not a selfish idiot.

If for any reason you think I'm selfish, etc., say and I will not follow your posts that I really like. I do not want to bother, thank you for understanding.


Nobody said you were an idiot. However, it is a fact that the majority of your votes are self-votes:

And as I said, that is completely legitimate ... but it is also legitimate that I upvote comments of users who also upvote my articles (I see no reason not to upvote an article on Steemit in case one liked it). :)

Apart from that I am happy to read that you liked the article.


I do not see the whole statistics here, I see only a few days and these are just the days where they advised me to raise my voting power @jaki01 -
Copy me a statistic from my 2 months, I can not do it. Let them show in percentage how much I gave votes to others and how much to myself. If you are right from that moment, I will not vote for myself anymore with my 2 cents of strength.


Maybe you like this one more?

But from my side I will stop that here now. My only intentention was to make you think a little bit. Maybe one last point: I think there is no reason always to wait until voting power has reached a maximum. This article of @timcliff is worth to be read:

verry good science educaion...thanks for sharing

If anything avoids pain I'm fairly sure it's self aware.