Can A Horse Recognize Himself In A Mirror?
When a horse peers at his reflection in the arena mirror, does he know he’s looking at himself? Researchers in Italy are working to answer that question, but the nature of horses themselves is complicating the effort.
“Of course, horses and animals in general don’t have a need to recognize them selves in the mirror---they don’t need to shave or put on makeup,” says Paolo Baragli, DVM, PhD, of the University of Pisa, “but the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror is a building block of self-awareness. Mirror self-recognition highlights the cognitive and emotional skills that are necessary to develop complex social relationships and to engage in behaviors relying on the different levels of empathy. For this reason, comparative psychologists, primatologists and ethologists have concentrated their efforts over the past four decades on the study of mirror self recognition in animals, in and out the primate order.”
To determine whether horses have this ability, the Italian researchers first acclimated four horses to an enclosure that contained a mirror, which was first covered and then uncovered. They then conducted the mark test paradigm, a standard method of gauging self recognition in individuals.
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