Thursday, July 5

Self-Awareness and the Mirror Test

What is self-awareness?

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize our personality, our strengths and weaknesses, and our likes and dislikes. Developing self-awareness can help us to recognize when we are stressed or under pressure. It's a prerequisite for effective communication and important for developing empathy for others.

However, a simpler definition would be that self-awareness is one's ability to reconcile him or herself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals; self-awareness is the capacity for introspection.

How can one's self-awareness be tested and who is self-aware?

To measure and test self-awareness, we have a test called the mirror test. This test was developed by Gordon Gallup Jr. in 1970, partly based on observations made by Charles Darwin. While visiting a zoo, Darwin held a mirror to an orangutan and recorded the animal's reactions to its reflection, which included making a series of facial expressions. Darwin, however, did not resolutely conclude that the orangutan is self-aware. He thought the animal may just be making expressions at what it perceived to be another animal, or possibly been playing a game with a new toy.
What is the mirror test?

The mirror test is a test to determine whether an animal can recognize its own reflection in an mirror as an image of itself.

Gallup accomplished a way to determine whether an animal can recognize its own reflection or not by surreptitiously marking the animal with two odorless dye spots. The test spot is on a part of the animal that is visible in front of a mirror and the other control spot is in an accessible but hidden part of the animal's body. Scientists then observe whether the animal reacts in a manner consistent with being aware that the test dye is located on its own body while ignoring the control dye not visible in front of the mirror. The animals who pass the mirror test as being self-aware will exhibit behavior including turning and adjusting its body in order to get a better view of the marking in the mirror, or poking at the marking on its own body with a limb while observing it from the mirror.

So who is self-aware?

Are humans self-aware? Yes. However, young children and people who have been blind from birth but have their sight restored, initially react as if their reflection in the mirror was another person and not their own reflection. Children tend to fail the mirror test until they are about 18 months old. Psychoanalysts call the first 18 months "mirror stage".

Which animals have passed the mirror test?

All great apes: bonobos, chimpanzees, orangutans and gorillas. Bottlenose dolphins, orcas, elephants and European magpies.