May 1, 2001 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Research demonstrates mirror self-recognition in dolphins, an interesting dolphin link.
posted by bjgeiger (12 comments total)
Humans, apes and now doplphins. What other animals may there be that can recognize themselves in a mirror?
posted by bjgeiger at 4:55 PM on May 1, 2001

I'd guess elephants.
posted by Zool at 5:37 PM on May 1, 2001

thanks, bjgeiger for posting this link. I saw a special about this a couple of weeks ago and hadn't followed up on it.

So very neat to think another creature looks in the mirror and goes "wtf?"
posted by auntbunny at 6:34 PM on May 1, 2001

I wonder whether this would be better thought of as an outgrowth of a specific adaptation (probably having to do with identification and support of gene-sharing relatives) or merely a byproduct of sufficient mental flexibility - problem solving with visual sophistication.

It feels like a pervasive limitation of the scientific publication protocol that we don't know the researcher's feelings about such things as, "do the dolphins 'enjoy' the mirror? Would they find it 'useful' for self-examination? How do they respond to trick circus mirrors? Do the markings annoy them? Why an 'x' tattoo and not something like a plastic barnacle?" etc. But I suppose those sorts of impressions, however interesting as intuitive knowledge outside the scope of science, are exactly what poison other scientist's minds with bias.

IIRC all whales and dolphins tested have recognized their own voices, but I haven't heard anything about nonhuman primates on this score (or even at what age a child can recognize its recorded voice). I imagine the function here is dealing with vocal mimicry, among both humans and dolphins. And it brings up the question: do dogs recognize their own scent? Probably not. Do birds recognize their own voice? With "lower animals" you run into problems around what recognition would consist of. It's hard to tell when a bird goes "wtf?"
posted by mitchel at 7:01 PM on May 1, 2001

Anyone here study Skinnerian Conditioning? That's how they teach pigeons to "play the piano" and do other weird things like that.

The principle behind it is that creatures look for consistency in things which lead to rewards, and wanting more rewards they try variations on the same theme.

I saw film once of a dolphin where they rewarded it each time it jumped out of the water in a unique way. In other words, if it ever did something the same, they would not reward it.

It didn't seem to have any problem with this at all. It would go out and come out of the water flipping one way, and then come to the edge for a fish, and then go out and make some entirely different leap, and then come for another fish, and it seemed to be having a great time.

Try doing that with a dog and you'll confuse heck out of it. "Do something different" is an extremely sophisticated concept, and it runs completely counter to Skinnerian Conditioning. It didn't seem to have confused this dolphin at all.
posted by Steven Den Beste at 7:17 PM on May 1, 2001

I guess it depends on how narrowly you want to define "recognition." As far as I'm concerned, my cat recognizes itself in the mirror. Get a tall, square mirror and stand it on the floor. At first there's curiosity, then recognition. A kitten when first exposed will think there is another cat, but an adult cat is much less likely to make the assumption, and certainly adapts much quicker. The dolphin test seems more oriented towards detecting vanity or concern over what has been done to it (spending time in front of the mirror after it's been marked).
posted by fleener at 7:25 PM on May 1, 2001

QT videos of the dolphins in front of mirrors. Not that you can learn anything from them without the text of the studies, but interesting anyway.
posted by tremendo at 2:50 PM on May 2, 2001

Same thing mentioned in the text of this post a month ago.
posted by JParker at 12:09 AM on May 3, 2001

Though I hear you fleener, I think the idea is that the cat doesn't recognize itself per se. Rather when it sees cat in mirror it inspects and on further discovery finds it has no smell, taste, warm fluffy feeling--therefore, that is not a cat. I think that the "adaptation" the cat goes through is merely disinterest, not that it's used to the image in the mirror being the reverse of itself, more like "been there done that and did nothing for me last time".
posted by crasspastor at 2:18 AM on May 3, 2001

My dog has a weird reaction to mirrors. He turns away. I pick him up, put him in front of the mirror, and for the life of me - he keeps turning away. There's no recognition of any sort in his eyes as to what he's seeing. Just an "irrational" need not to look at it. Weird.

My friend has the same kind of dog, and he barks at this "mysterious dog that seems to do everything I do".
posted by owillis at 2:46 AM on May 3, 2001

QT videos

Dolphins rule! I just wanna hug them. Seriously.
posted by crasspastor at 3:07 AM on May 3, 2001

I think the real issues of dolphin intelligence are discussed particularly eloquently in this news article.
posted by chrismear at 3:46 AM on May 3, 2001

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