What Do Animals See In The Mirror?

What do animals see in a mirror? Themselves? A playmate? A love interest?

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What Do Animals See In The Mirror?

Most of the literature available on this subject is thanks to psychologist Gordon G. Gallup, Jr., who randomly contemplated: what do animals see in a mirror?

Wait a minute, that’s a good question - what do animals see when look in a mirror? Gordon piqued a self-awareness experiment which saw a schism in the cognitive ability of the animal kingdom. When you put animals before a mirror, some have the mental capacity to comprehend their being whereas others just don’t.

While Darwin beat Gordon to it in experimentation, Gordon’s findings were far more fruitful.

His study does not seek to discover whether an animal can identify itself in a mirror or not. He wants to learn the intricate mechanics that underlie what a mirror reflection means to animals. Gordon puts it eloquently “It’s not the ability to recognize yourself in a mirror that is important,” adding “It’s what that says about your ability to conceive of yourself in the first place.”

Chimps – Bingo!  

Gordon experimented with chimps and mirrors back in 1969. He isolated two chimps in separate cages, keeping a mirror in each one for 8 hours daily over a 10 day period.

Initially, the chimpanzees confused their reflection for another chimp. They displayed a selection of amusing reactions to their reflection, from social and sexual to aggression. Eventually, they recognized the chimp in the mirror and used their reflection to survey their own bodies.

“They’d use the mirror to look at the inside of their mouths, to make faces at the mirror, to inspect their genitals, to remove mucous from the corner of their eyes,” Gallup recalls.

Gordon felt these findings weren’t convincing enough and did something more radical yet. He sedated the chimps, painting one eyebrow ridge and the opposite ear tip with a red dye. He made sure the paint carried no scent either, while the anesthesia ensured they didn’t feel it.

They inspected his delights, much to Gordon’s delight.

Monkeys – Oh No

Monkeys were not able to do the same.

Dolphins - Bingo

Lori Marin a student of Gordon experimented with two bottlenose dolphins at an aquarium to a mirror.

Similar to chimpanzees, the dolphins eventually learned to use the mirror in a range of ways. They often started “having sex in front of the mirror with each other, which we call our dolphin porno tapes,” Marino says.

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