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Self image: can cats recognize themselves in the mirror?


Scientists have always been concerned with the question of what animals recognize when they look in the mirror. Do you know that the reflection is yourself? Chimpanzees and magpies are said to recognize themselves in their reflection, but cats do not seem to have this ability. At least the velvet paws fail regularly in the so-called mirror test. What does this pretty Bengal cat see in the mirror? - Shutterstock / Steve Heap

The mirror test is an experiment with which researchers want to find out whether animals recognize themselves in the mirror or not. Cats, monkeys, dogs, birds and other animals are placed in front of a mirror, after which their reaction is observed: Do they move closer? Are you making certain unusual movements to see if your reflection behaves the same way? Or do they show no interest in their reflection?

How the mirror test works

The reaction of the animals to their reflection can already provide first clues as to whether they recognize themselves in the mirror. It becomes a little clearer if the scientists place a small mark on the animal without noticing it. For example, this can be a red dot that is in a place that the animal can only see in the mirror. If he stops looking at his reflection and tries to remove the marking, this is an indication that he has recognized himself in the mirror. Cats are generally indifferent to this experiment.

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What do cats recognize in the mirror?

There is no clear answer to the question of what cats can see and recognize in the mirror. The cats' lack of reaction in the mirror test can also mean that the cuddly tigers are not interested in their reflection, even though they recognize it. The mirror test cannot allow a look inside the cat's consciousness. The observations made by the scientists in the experiment offer interesting clues, but whether they are sufficient as evidence is controversial.

Most cats who are standing in front of a mirror for the first time react uncertainly at first. So the cuddly tigers seem to recognize something in the mirror. Perhaps they initially think of their reflection as a conspecific. But over time the fur noses learn that the image in the mirror is not "real", apparently get used to it and ignore it.

Individual self-image unimportant for cats?

The perception of cats works differently than that of humans. The sense of sight is much more important for people than for cats, who rely heavily on their sense of smell and touch as well as their hearing. Therefore, visual impressions and an individual self-image play an essential role for people to find their way around the world and to get in touch with other people. Cats, on the other hand, do not need any of this to orient themselves in their environment. It is enough for them to know that they are a cat and that humans are "something else". Nevertheless, every cat is and remains something very special for its human.


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