Bottom-watching: a sign of intelligence?

19 04 2017

Screenshot 2017-04-07 11.27.05

A couple of weeks ago the GTA Animal Cognition Reading Group met to discuss new work on mirror self-recognition, led by Noam Miller. Despite my love of this group I could not go due to piles of undone marking (going to Toronto can be a 3 hour round trip, sometimes more).

I did read the articles though: a nice compromise. A box by Sara Shettleworth, featuring her usual crisp logic, argued that mirror self-recognition is no more a sign of self-awareness than brachiation (or any task where an animal displays a fine appreciation of where all its bodyparts are).  And this was somewhat echoed by the main paper of focus: research in PNAS by Chang and colleagues, in which rhesus monkeys were trained to use mirrors.  This paper convincingly showed that monkeys can learn to understand that reflections are salient, and even that the image in it is somehow themselves. But since this only emerged through extensive training, it’s hard to know what (if anything) this really says about the abilities of other species: is some kind of intelligent self-awareness really revealed by using a mirror to inspect your bottom?