The Mark Test: Mirrors and Recognition

I bet you looked in a mirror this morning.  Regardless of whether you liked what you saw, you recognized yourself.  You understood that there was not another person in the bathroom, copying you.

You passed the Mark Test, or the Mirror Test.  You demonstrated self awareness.

So how exactly does a species demonstrate that they have self awareness?

In humans, we identify it as having conscious knowledge of our own character, feelings and desires, and being able to imagine how others might perceive us. It also means having self conscious emotions like pride or shame. We use our words to communicate these thoughts to each other.

In the wider animal kingdom, the bar is lowered because it’s seemingly impossible to measure what animals think and feel. Instead, we look for signs that they recognize they exist separately from other animals and the environment.

The best way to determine this scientifically is with the mirror test.” -Turner, 10 Animals with Self Awareness


Not all animals pass this test.  You may have seen your dog barking at his reflection, or your cat hissing at hers.  Giant pandas have failed, as have sea lions.  And it’s arguable that this mark test can actually measure self awareness-an extremely variable and difficult marker to test, especially with species who process the world differently, and communicate differently, than humans.  A good exception to the mirror test is the giraffe-Giraffes do not like to make eye contact, and therefore always fail the mirror test…they won’t look at their reflection, and we cannot measure their self awareness this way.

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How does the test go? Essentially, an animal is unknowingly marked with a dot on their body and then shown their reflection in a mirror. If they can touch the spot on their own body, instead of the reflection, they may be demonstrating self awareness.  If the animal acts with familiarity or some other form of awareness they may realize that they are looking at themselves, such as adjusting their body to view the mark, or to try to remove the mark.   Orcas and great apes have passed, and as of recent,  Giant Manta Rays. 


Devil Rays are the first fish to have passed the mirror test, but they may not be the only fish to have self awareness.  When presented with mirrors, the rays made passes by the mirror, blowing bubbles and in general displaying friendly behavior and not behavior that would suggest the introduction of another ray to the space.

Manta Rays have the largest brain of fish, and exhibit behavior that humans can’t explain (like breaching)-which may raise a greater question. Is the test we are administering to measure self awareness broad enough? Or are we limited by our lack of recognizing the self awareness of other specifies in their specific ways?

here’s looking at you,


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