Nov
16
2005

Who's the monkey in the mirror?

Psychologists at Emory University in Atlanta have been studying how capuchin monkeys see themselves by showing them their own reflections.

The scientists assumed that the monkeys would behave as they would when meeting a stranger. Instead, females react with curiosity and friendly gestures, while males act distressed and fearful. Psychologist Frans B.M. de Waal thinks the monkeys realize that the reflections are special, even if they're not quite sure who they're looking at.

Know thyself

When you look in the mirror, you know the person you're seeing is you. You're "self aware." (Scientists consider an animal self-aware if it touches a painted spot on its own face when it looks in a mirror.) People, apes, and dolphins recognize themselves. Most monkeys, though, don't get it.

In a series of experiments, the Emory scientists put capuchin monkeys into test chambers where they had one of three experiences: they saw a monkey of the same sex that they'd never met before, they saw a familiar monkey of the same sex, or they saw their own reflections. Reactions to the other monkeys were predictable, but the reactions to the mirrors were new. And the Emory scientists think they prove that the capuchins have reached some intermediate level of self-awareness, somewhere between seeing their reflections as other monkeys and recognizing themselves.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

if we came from monkeys, wouldn't it stand to reason that vanity in primates could evolve to some extent like humans who are perhaps the vainest creatures on the planet?

posted on Thu, 11/17/2005 - 7:38pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Animals are usually far more intelligent than we give them credit for- we are just begining to understand what they are able to teach us!

posted on Thu, 11/17/2005 - 9:28pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I really like all the stuff you have

posted on Tue, 11/22/2005 - 3:02pm
Liza's picture
Liza says:

Marietta Dindo, who worked with Frans De Waal on the capuchin/mirror study, sent me these two images.

capuchinmirror1Photo courtesy Marietta Dindo/Frans de Waal

capuchinmirror2Photo courtesy Marietta Dindo/Frans de Waal

posted on Wed, 11/30/2005 - 4:09pm

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