Watch: Wild Animals React to Seeing Themselves in Mirror

Image via Depositphotos

We can only imagine what goes on in an animal’s mind when they encounter themselves in a mirror.  Unsurprisingly, scientists have been studying the reactions of animals placed in front of mirrors for decades.

The first study on animal self-recognition, by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. in the 1970s, involved marking an animal's face with dye and observing if they used a mirror to investigate the mark.

Image generated by Amy King using Midjourney

Mirror Self-Recognition

Chimpanzees, dolphins, orcas, and magpies, among others, have passed the Mirror Self-Recognition (MSR) test. Monkeys, giant pandas, and sea lions have failed it. Humans can pass it by 18 months old.

chimpanzees via unsplash

The argument suggests that mirror self-recognition (MSR) indicates self-awareness or that animals have a mental image of themselves. MSR tests help researchers understand animal consciousness and cognition.


Image by Andre Mouton via Unsplash

However, results from the MSR test have been far from consistent.  One study found that less than half of the number of chimpanzees tested passed the test.

chimpanzees via unsplash

This test focuses on visual stimuli, which may not be fair for animals relying more on smell or hearing. Some species might ignore the mark or react aggressively to their mirror image, hindering their understanding of what the image represents.

Criticism For The MSR Test

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Another thing to consider is that animals may not have the same concept of “self” that humans have.  Self-awareness is not a binary trait (yes or no trait); thus, failing the mirror test does not necessarily mean an animal lacks self-awareness.

lion via unsplash

As humans, we wrestle with our place in the universe and our emotions, hoping to learn something from animals that might ease our burden of self-awareness.

cat via Wikimedia Commons

Watch: Wild Animals React to Seeing Themselves in Mirror

Image via Depositphotos