The first thing I thought of for this week's #52 Snapshots Challenge was the famous "mirror" (Rouge) test for self-awareness.
Developed in 1970 by Gordon Gallup, this test has been used in studies to gauge the development of cognitive self-recognition in children. An experimenter places a colorful dot (rouge) on the child's face. If the child reacts to seeing the mark in a mirror, by touching it on her face or by turning to see it better, it indicates an awareness that the child knows the reflection is herself, not another child. Here's a video of children taking the Rouge Test:
This ability generally appears in toddlers 18-24 old.
Originally though the test was developed to test this ability in - surprise! - chimpanzees. Later investigators wondered if non-ape species might recognize their own reflections. Click here to be charmed by the antics of dolphins displaying their smarts for the mirror.
So which animals join us on the smarty-pants list? Dolphins, orangutans, bonobos, chimpanzees, orcas, dolphins, Asian elephants, and European magpies have passed the mirror test. So far.
The mirror test can be controversial as an indicator of sentience however.*
Dogs and cats are absent from the list. But, as Dr. Marty Becker points out, the mirror test hinges largely on vision. Dogs rely primarily on smell. Do they ignore the mirror because there is no odor to indicate something interesting?
I decided to see what Toby would do if faced with his reflection.
He stared at himself for several seconds. It seemed like he was sizing this other dog up.
Just as I started getting excited Toby transferred his gaze to me, looking perplexed. At least he didn't try to attack himself, as some dogs have done.
Suddenly he sniffed behind the mirror, as if to satisfy himself that there truly was nobody there. This is pretty classic behavior for dogs during the mirror test.
And that was it. I didn't try painting a dot on him. Toby's a very smart boy, but I doubt that he's the Einstein of canines, performing cognitive feats no dog has before .
*"Self-awareness is like gravity," Johns Hopkins's Pete Roma says. "We can't touch it directly, so if we want to measure it, scientists must develop valid techniques to directly observe its effects. Currently, mirror mark tests are the best-known and most accepted method, but the absence of an effect does not necessarily mean the absence of the thing we're trying to measure. Ultimately, evidence from multiple techniques should converge on the truth, whatever it may be. Such is the beauty of how scientific advances turn controversy into common knowledge." - Scientific American, Maggie Koerth-Baker, 2010