Monkey See, Monkey Do Understand09/30/10
THURSDAY, Sept. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Your dog, like most other
animals, can't look in a mirror and figure out the furry thing with
eyes is her own reflection. But Wisconsin researchers have just
proven that rhesus macaque monkeys can -- and are delighted when
There's more to this discovery than monkey entertainment: the
research could give scientists more insight into how humans (the
most mirror-happy species of all) developed an advanced sense of
The finding suggests that self-awareness evolved "much further
back" than scientists had assumed, said study co-author Luis C.
Populin, an associate professor at the University of
"Perhaps the way in which it evolved over time was more of a progressive process, and this function didn't necessarily appear abruptly," Populin added.
Until now, only a few species -- including humans, elephants,
dolphins, chimpanzees and magpies -- have shown they are able to
look at their images in a mirror and figure out that they're
looking at themselves, Populin said.
Other kinds of animals may detect that there's an animal in a
mirror but think it's another one and try to play with it or defend
themselves against it.
Why does this kind of self-awareness matter? Because it allows
animals to gain a greater sense of where they fit into the world,
Populin said. "All of a sudden you start exploring yourself and who
you are and how you look. Clearly, it's very important for humans,"
It may play other roles, too. Populin said it's possible that
self-awareness may allow animals to gauge how big they are compared
to the rest of the world. (Small dogs who try to pick fights with
huge dogs, for example, may lack this ability.)
Researchers test self-awareness by putting a dot on an animal
and then watching to see if it can use a mirror to figure out that
the dot is on itself.
In the new study, researchers realized that the monkeys did
figure out how to use mirrors after the animals had been given a
head implant to allow brain monitoring. In fact, all five monkeys
in the study saw their bodies in a full-length mirror and began
examining their genitals, which they normally wouldn't see.
Kim A. Bard, a professor who studies primates at the University
of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, said the study findings are
"remarkable" because they challenge previous findings and "raise
more questions for future research, specifically how are these
monkeys different from all the previous ones that haven't shown
self explorations with mirrors?"
If the monkeys do have this kind of self-awareness, she added,
they're ahead of human babies, who don't figure out what mirrors
show until they're well into the second year of life.
The study findings were published online Sept. 29 in
The University of California at Berkeley has details about
Copyright © 2010
. All rights reserved.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.