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Mirror self-recognition: a review and critique of attempts to promote and engineer self-recognition in primates

Abstract

We review research on reactions to mirrors and self-recognition in nonhuman primates, focusing on methodological issues. Starting with the initial demonstration in chimpanzees in 1970 and subsequent attempts to extend this to other species, self-recognition in great apes is discussed with emphasis on spontaneous manifestations of mirror-guided self-exploration as well as spontaneous use of the mirror to investigate foreign marks on otherwise nonvisible body parts—the mark test. Attempts to show self-recognition in other primates are examined with particular reference to the lack of convincing examples of spontaneous mirror-guided self-exploration, and efforts to engineer positive mark test responses by modifying the test or using conditioning techniques. Despite intensive efforts to demonstrate self-recognition in other primates, we conclude that to date there is no compelling evidence that prosimians, monkeys, or lesser apes—gibbons and siamangs—are capable of mirror self-recognition.

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Correspondence to James R. Anderson.

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Anderson, J.R., Gallup, G.G. Mirror self-recognition: a review and critique of attempts to promote and engineer self-recognition in primates. Primates 56, 317–326 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10329-015-0488-9

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Keywords

  • Great apes
  • Lesser apes
  • Monkeys
  • Self-recognition
  • Awareness
  • Mirror-guided behavior
  • Mark test