When a woman looks in the mirror, she is able to recognize her own reflection. She may think she is having a great hair day or detect new wrinkles, but she is undoubtedly aware that she is looking at herself.
For years, scientists have been curious about self-recognition in other animal species. Chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins and orangutans are all able to self-recognize. In contrast, when researchers at the University of Goethe in Frankfurt, Germany focused on birds, they ultimately determined that flamingos, grey parrots, and jungle crows do not self-recognize when looking in a mirror and react as if they are seeing another member of their own species. Now, these same researchers are focusing on a “smarter” bird: the magpie.
Researchers placed five of these cognitively advanced birds into a two-compartment cage with a mirror on one side. Experimental birds were marked with a red or yellow dot on the back of the throat, while control birds sported a black dot. Overall, the birds reacted to the mirror aggressively, indifferently, and emotionally (one bird began performing mating rituals to his/her own reflection!). Three of the five birds exhibited some self-directed behavior, with two birds actually removing their red or yellow dot. Overall, lead researcher Helmut Prior and his colleagues determined that “‘magpies are capable of understanding that a mirror image belongs to their own body,’ but they do not claim that ‘the findings demonstrate a level of self-consciousness or self-reflection typical of humans.’”
In other words, magpies are able to recognize themselves but have no emotional attachments to their reflection. Couldn’t some of us benefit from this mentality?
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