It’s not until we’re around 2 years old that we figure out what the mirror is showing us. And not all animals can recognize their own reflections. But if you train a rhesus monkey in the mirror, it will the first thing it’ll do is check out its genitals.
The monkey in the mirror
A 2015 study found that rhesus monkeys are capable of recognizing themselves in mirrors and engaging in self-exploration behaviors, but only after some training. The research helps shed light on the cognitive abilities of non-human primates and their level of self-awareness.
The researchers trained a group of rhesus monkeys to touch a red dot on their faces after seeing it in a mirror. This task is commonly used to test an animal’s ability to recognize itself in a mirror and is considered a measure of self-awareness. It’s called the “standard mark test.”
It took several weeks of training for rhesus monkeys to pass the standard mark test. But, eventually, they were able to recognize themselves in the mirror and understand that the reflection was a representation of their own bodies.
The first thing the monkeys did after that? Umm. Let’s just say they engaged in a range of self-exploration behaviors.” And they started with their own genitals.
The rhesus monkeys didn’t spend all their time “down there” though. They eventually moved on to the nose and mouth, behavior similar to what has been observed in chimpanzees and orangutans.
The act of inspecting their own genitals may seem amusing, but it actually provides insight into the cognitive abilities of non-human primates. The ability to recognize oneself in a mirror is considered a measure of self-awareness. And that’s a crucial component of consciousness.
Self-awareness allows animals to engage in complex social behaviors, such as empathy, cooperation, and deception.
Rhesus monkeys’ ability to recognize themselves in mirrors and engage in self-exploration is significant because it suggests that they have a level of self-awareness that we previously thought unique to humans.
The study also has implications for our understanding of animal welfare. Animals that are self-aware are more likely to experience emotions, including pain, fear, and stress. This means that they may be more susceptible to negative welfare impacts, such as confinement and isolation.
If we understand the cognitive abilities of non-human primates, we can work towards improving their welfare.
Source: “Monkeys Learn to Recognize Themselves in a Mirror – And Promptly Check Out Their Butts” — Discover Magazine