Self-Recognition of Mirror Reflection

Certainty Style Key
Hover over keys for definitions:
True   Likely   Speculative
Human Uniqueness Compared to "Great Apes": 
Relative Difference
Human Universality: 
Individual Universal (All Individuals Everywhere)
MOCA Domain: 
MOCA Topic Authors: 

Determining whether an animal species has the capacity to recognize its self in a mirror can give us evidence as to whether or not that animal species has the capacity to mentally represent its self as well as other members of its species and use those representations in its mental activity. The basic approach begins by simply giving mirror exposure to the animal. Through this exposure, animals capable of self-recognition undergo similar behavioral trajectories:

1. Social behavior - responding to image as if it is another animal

2. Exploratory behavior - looking behind the mirror

3. Contingency training - testing to see if visual information matches motor behavior, like moving hands while watching the mirror

4. Self-directed behavior and self-inspection - to examine eyes, teeth, hair, genitals, etc

The final test, the Mirror Self-Recognition (MSR) Test, involves placing odorless spots on the animal that can only be visually accessed through the use of a mirror. A control spot, odorless and colorless, is also placed on the animal. If that animal approaches the mirror and consistently and systematically interacts with the visual dot more than it did before the marking process, then it evidence that the animal is capable of recognizing itself in the mirror.


The Mirror Self-Recognition Test has been done on a wide range of primates demonstrating that this ability is typically present in apes but absent in monkeys.

The Human Difference: 

Below is a list of species where at least one member of that species has passed: Passing - Humans - Chimpanzees - Orangutans - Human-raised Gorillas - Cotton-top tamarins, Saguinus oedipus Self-directed behavior - Gibbons - Gorillas - Bonobos - Rhesus monkeys Not passing - Capuchin monkeys - Spider monkeys - Baboons, Papio hamadryas - Mandrills, Mandrillus sphinx - Stumptailed macaques, Macaca arctoides - Rhesus macaques, Macaca mulatta - Long-tailed macaques, Macaca fascicularis - Liontailed macaques, Macaca silenus

Universality in Human Populations: 

Humans start to recognize own image on the mirror at around 2 years old (15-24 months). There are cross-cultural differences to the development of MSR. Infants that experience more face to face contigency interaction with their parents develop mirror self-recognition earlier, demonstrating that developmental activities alter this ability. This is probably why human-raised primates often show higher MSR capacities. Autistic children, when compared with typically developing children at the same developmental level, seem to vocalize less and touch their bodies more in interaction with a mirror. There is a strong correlation between object permanence tasks and self-awareness tasks. Autistic children that did poorly in the mirror self-recognition task also did poorly in an object permanence task. While the Mirror Self-Recognition Test can provide possible evidence for which primates have theory of mind capabilities, there is evidence that a number of other species also have this capability. These species tend to be very social. Bottlenose dolphins, elephants, and magpies have passed the test.

Related MOCA Topics
Referenced By:


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  2. Rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) do recognize themselves in the mirror: implications for the evolution of self-recognition., Rajala, A. Z., Reininger K. R., Lancaster K. M., and Populin L. C. , PLoS One, Volume 5, Issue 9, (2010)
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