Sunday 15 June 2014

Cats and Mirrors: Signs of Cat Self-awareness

There is a debate going on about whether the domestic cat can be self-aware. The question is whether domestic cats know that they exist and one way to measure this is to look into a mirror and recognise yourself. Humans do this instinctively. We don't question it. We know we exist. We recognise ourselves. In fact it causes lots of problems because many people don't like the way they look or themselves at all. So self-consciousness is a potential problem. Does the domestic cat know he or she exists?

The video above hints at, and some people will say that it is evidence of, cat self-awareness. I am undecided. This beautiful black-and-white cat raises his paws while looking in the mirror apparently to check whether what he is looking at is himself. That is the impression that I get. He's certainly interested in what he's seeing in the bathroom mirror. Perhaps he is unsure what he is looking at but his behaviour hints at the fact that he is questioning whether what he is looking at is, in fact, himself. If that is the case then he at least believes that it is possible that the cat he sees in the mirror is himself.

If a cat sees an image of himself in a mirror believing that it is possibly him then it could be argued that the domestic cat is self-aware.

There is, in fact, a mirror test which is an experiment developed in 1970 by a psychologist, Gordon Gallup Jr. Certain species of animal passed the mirror test including: bottlenose dolphins, European magpies, elephants, killer whales, gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees. The cat is not included in the list. In the test, the animal recognises the mirror as an image of him or herself.

The jury is still out on this but one thing is sure as far, as I am concerned, and that is this: we are gradually learning more about the mental and emotional abilities of domestic cats and all animals and discovering that there is a lot more going on in the brain of animals than we had previously given credit for.

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