Animal Cognition

, Volume 22, Issue 6, pp 1171–1183 | Cite as

Mirror self-recognition and its relationship to social cognition in chimpanzees

  • Carla KrachunEmail author
  • Robert Lurz
  • Lindsay M. Mahovetz
  • William D. Hopkins
Original Paper


Chimpanzees and humans are capable of recognizing their own reflection in mirrors. Little is understood about the selective pressures that led to this evolved trait and about the mechanisms that underlie it. Here, we investigated the hypothesis that mirror self-recognition in chimpanzees is the byproduct of a developed form of self-awareness that was naturally selected for its adaptive use in social cognitive behaviors. We present here the first direct attempt to assess the social cognition hypothesis by analyzing the association between mirror self-recognition in chimpanzees, as measured by a mirror-mark test, and their performance on a variety of social cognition tests. Consistent with the social cognition hypothesis, chimpanzees who showed evidence of mirror self-recognition in the mark test tended to perform significantly better on the social cognition tasks than those who failed the mark test. Additionally, the data as a whole fit the social cognition hypothesis better than the main competing hypothesis of mirror self-recognition in great apes, the secondary representation hypothesis. Our findings strongly suggest that the evolutionary origins of great apes’ and humans’ capacity to understand ourselves, as revealed by our capacity to recognize ourselves in mirrors, are intimately linked to our ability to understand others.


Mirror self-recognition Self-awareness Social cognition Secondary representation Great apes Chimpanzees 



We wish to thank Aaron Kozbelt for his statistical acumen and help with the post hoc power analyses.


This research was funded by a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Discovery Grant (435593-2013) to C. K., and National Institutes of Health (NIH) Grants (HD-60563 and NS-42867) to W. D. H.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

All four authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable national, international, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. All procedures performed in studies involving animals were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution at which the studies were conducted.

Supplementary material

10071_2019_1309_MOESM1_ESM.docx (1.5 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 1527 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy, Brooklyn CollegeCUNYBrooklynUSA
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of North FloridaJacksonvilleUSA
  4. 4.Department of Comparative MedicineUniversity of Texas MD Anderson Cancer CenterBastropUSA

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