Mirror Self-Recognition in Dolphins

Topics: Dolphin

Mirror Self-Recognition is becoming an increasingly rare capacity in the animal kingdom. Meaningful self-recognition relies upon the subject not only noticing their reflection, but also understanding that the image they are seeing is themselves. In humans, a red dot is placed on a child’s nose before that child is placed in front of a mirror in order to test for self awareness. Researchers watch for certain behaviors like removing and replacing the red dot to verify that a child is self aware.

This unique ability doesn’t appear reliably in humans until 18-24 months.

Very few other species posses ‘self-awareness’. That is not to say that all animals are not at least somewhat aware because otherwise they’d be walking into walls and whatnot, but the self-awareness the mirror test hopes to define is the foundation for higher thinking. Higher thinking includes abilities like self-analysis and complex emotions like guilt, gratitude, and greed. Even though transcendental thinking is generally believed to be a strictly human capacity, other animals have shown the foundations of more complex processes.

The greater ape family and chimpanzees are humans closest relatives and, until recently, the only other animals to demonstrate the foundational capacities provided by being ‘self-aware’. Dolphins have been experimented on and have produced some surprising results.

We generally consider dolphins to be incredibly intelligent creatures but we did not know if they had the critical foundations provided by self-awareness. Using a 13 year old and 17 year old dolphin as test subjects, scientists fitted a 13 meter by 18.

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5 meter tank with plexiglass reflective surroundings. They then coordinated with the dolphins based on their prior training for human performances. Using a marker the dolphins were marked on parts of their body that they could not see without the aid of the mirror. In order to set a control group sometimes the dolphins were false-marked(only pretended to be drawn on), true marked, or not touched at all. The dolphins would have to meet a 100% compatibility criteria denoting behaviors associated with self awareness. An example of a behavior would be a dolphin attempting to remove a mark that it has seen on its own body with the aid of the mirror.

After series of test scientist found that dolphins were undeniably self-aware. This lead researchers to other broader questions like,”how much meaning does their communication system hold” and “can dolphins feel complex emotions such as guilt?” Given that 81.1% of the marked dolphins exhibited 100% compatibility with the self-awareness criteria suggest that the creatures are not only self-aware, but consistently so. This is further supported by evidence of very little criteria matches with unmarked or false-marked dolphins. In the future, I hope scientists can use this new found understanding of dolphins capacity for thought to find ways to send encoded signal between submersibles.

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Mirror Self-Recognition in Dolphins. (2022, Mar 07). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/mirror-self-recognition-in-dolphins/

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