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Mirror-mediated spatial location in great tits (Parus major)

Gaviraghi Mussoi, Juliane (2018) BION03 20171
Degree Projects in Biology
Abstract
Self-awareness is the ability to recognize oneself as a distinct individual from others. For a long time, this was thought to be a uniquely human capability. However, in the last 50 years, it has been argued that humans might not be the only self-aware organisms and different tests have been developed to investigate this. The most commonly used experiment to test self-awareness is the mirror self-recognition mark test in which many individuals of hundreds of species have been tested. However, even in species that are considered to be cognitively advanced, such as chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, not all individuals will pass the test. Still, some individuals of other species, such as Asian elephants, bottlenose dolphins and Eurasian... (More)
Self-awareness is the ability to recognize oneself as a distinct individual from others. For a long time, this was thought to be a uniquely human capability. However, in the last 50 years, it has been argued that humans might not be the only self-aware organisms and different tests have been developed to investigate this. The most commonly used experiment to test self-awareness is the mirror self-recognition mark test in which many individuals of hundreds of species have been tested. However, even in species that are considered to be cognitively advanced, such as chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, not all individuals will pass the test. Still, some individuals of other species, such as Asian elephants, bottlenose dolphins and Eurasian magpies have been able to perform this task.
In a previous study, great tits (Parus major) were tested for self-recognition in the mark-mirror test. This species was considered to be a candidate to possess self-awareness since it is considered to be innovative, a good problem solver and a good observational learner, which are characteristics that indicate high cognitive abilities. However, the great tits failed the test and behaved as if the reflection in the mirror was a conspecific and not themselves.
Failure in the mark-mirror test does not by necessity prove that a species is not self-aware. An animal could possess some degree of self-awareness but still fail the test, simply because it does not understand the concept of mirrors. It is probably rare for animals to encounter such clear reflections as the ones in mirrors in their natural habitats.
In this study I tested if great tits were able to understand mirrors in a mirror-mediated location task, where a food reward was hidden in one out of four boxes. The boxes were positioned on top of a mirror, so that the birds could only find the reward through the reflection of the mirror. I performed ten trials per day in three separate days. I registered the sex, environment and age of the birds, and which boxes they chose in each session, for later analysis.
Before the test, the birds had to pass a pre-training criterion showing that they were able/willing to try to take the reward in the test. Out of the 31 birds, only 61% passed the pre-training criterion and were allowed to continue to the test. I trained 20 birds in a simpler but similar task in the test and later, 11 birds went directly to the test without any prior training. There was no effect of environment, sex or age in the trained birds. For the birds without prior training, however, environment and age had a significant effect, in that the urban birds performed better than rural and that young birds performed better than adults. Also, there was an unexpected effect of day in the trained birds, as the performance decreased over days, suggesting there was no learning effect, but, a decrease in motivation.
According my results, some great tits are able to use mirrors and understand the concept of reflection, but there is a considerable difference between individuals. It is reasonable to assume that the reason that great tits will not pass the mirror-self recognition test is not due to an inability to use mirrors. Thus my study supports the suggestion that great tits are not able to recognize themselves in the mirror and probably don’t possess self-awareness of the same advanced type as humans. (Less)
Popular Abstract
Can great tits use mirrors?

One of the biggest questions of mankind is what makes us human and, therefore, different from other animals. For a long time, self-awareness was thought to be one of the things that separated us from other beings. Self-awareness is the knowledge that an individual possess about its own desires, feelings and emotions. However, in the last 50 years, it has been argued that humans might not be the only self-aware organisms and different tests were developed to test this.

The most commonly used experiment to test self-awareness is the mirror self-recognition mark task. In this experiment, animals are marked in a place on their body that they cannot be able to see unless through a mirror. Then they are exposed... (More)
Can great tits use mirrors?

One of the biggest questions of mankind is what makes us human and, therefore, different from other animals. For a long time, self-awareness was thought to be one of the things that separated us from other beings. Self-awareness is the knowledge that an individual possess about its own desires, feelings and emotions. However, in the last 50 years, it has been argued that humans might not be the only self-aware organisms and different tests were developed to test this.

The most commonly used experiment to test self-awareness is the mirror self-recognition mark task. In this experiment, animals are marked in a place on their body that they cannot be able to see unless through a mirror. Then they are exposed to a mirror and if they interact with the mark, they are considered to recognize themselves in the mirror and therefore, understand the concept of self. Hundreds of species have been tested, but only a few individuals of a few species, such as chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, Asian elephants, bottlenose dolphins and Eurasian magpies have demonstrated the ability to perform this task.

In a previous study, great tits (Parus major) were tested for self-recognition in the mark-mirror test. This species was considered a candidate to possess self-awareness as it is being innovative, a good problem solver and a good observational learner. These are all characteristics that indicate high cognitive abilities. However, the great tits failed to recognize themselves during the test, and they behaved as if the mirror was a conspecific and not themselves. However, failure to pass this test may depend on an inability to understand mirrors rather than lack of self-awareness. Therefore, my question was: can great tits understand the mechanisms of a mirror its reflections?

To test this, I hid a food reward in one out of four boxes that were on top of a mirror. The only way the birds would be able to find the reward was to use the reflection of the mirror. I conducted three sessions of ten trials for each birds each. Only 61% of the studied birds were able to perform this task and for these, there was a big difference in outcome.

Even if only some great tits are able to use mirrors, my results suggest that the reason that great tits did not passed through the mirror-self recognition test was not due to inability to use mirrors. Therefore, my study supports the suggestion that this species probably don’t possess the same self-awareness level as humans.

Master’s Degree Project in Biology – Animal Ecology 60 credits 2018
Advisor: Anders Brodin
Department of Biology, Lund University (Less)
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
Gaviraghi Mussoi, Juliane
supervisor
organization
course
BION03 20171
year
type
H2 - Master's Degree (Two Years)
subject
language
English
id
8950819
date added to LUP
2018-06-18 13:30:19
date last changed
2018-06-18 13:30:19
@misc{8950819,
  abstract     = {Self-awareness is the ability to recognize oneself as a distinct individual from others. For a long time, this was thought to be a uniquely human capability. However, in the last 50 years, it has been argued that humans might not be the only self-aware organisms and different tests have been developed to investigate this. The most commonly used experiment to test self-awareness is the mirror self-recognition mark test in which many individuals of hundreds of species have been tested. However, even in species that are considered to be cognitively advanced, such as chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, not all individuals will pass the test. Still, some individuals of other species, such as Asian elephants, bottlenose dolphins and Eurasian magpies have been able to perform this task. 
In a previous study, great tits (Parus major) were tested for self-recognition in the mark-mirror test. This species was considered to be a candidate to possess self-awareness since it is considered to be innovative, a good problem solver and a good observational learner, which are characteristics that indicate high cognitive abilities. However, the great tits failed the test and behaved as if the reflection in the mirror was a conspecific and not themselves. 
Failure in the mark-mirror test does not by necessity prove that a species is not self-aware. An animal could possess some degree of self-awareness but still fail the test, simply because it does not understand the concept of mirrors. It is probably rare for animals to encounter such clear reflections as the ones in mirrors in their natural habitats.
In this study I tested if great tits were able to understand mirrors in a mirror-mediated location task, where a food reward was hidden in one out of four boxes. The boxes were positioned on top of a mirror, so that the birds could only find the reward through the reflection of the mirror. I performed ten trials per day in three separate days. I registered the sex, environment and age of the birds, and which boxes they chose in each session, for later analysis. 
Before the test, the birds had to pass a pre-training criterion showing that they were able/willing to try to take the reward in the test. Out of the 31 birds, only 61% passed the pre-training criterion and were allowed to continue to the test. I trained 20 birds in a simpler but similar task in the test and later, 11 birds went directly to the test without any prior training. There was no effect of environment, sex or age in the trained birds. For the birds without prior training, however, environment and age had a significant effect, in that the urban birds performed better than rural and that young birds performed better than adults. Also, there was an unexpected effect of day in the trained birds, as the performance decreased over days, suggesting there was no learning effect, but, a decrease in motivation. 
According my results, some great tits are able to use mirrors and understand the concept of reflection, but there is a considerable difference between individuals. It is reasonable to assume that the reason that great tits will not pass the mirror-self recognition test is not due to an inability to use mirrors. Thus my study supports the suggestion that great tits are not able to recognize themselves in the mirror and probably don’t possess self-awareness of the same advanced type as humans.},
  author       = {Gaviraghi Mussoi, Juliane},
  language     = {eng},
  note         = {Student Paper},
  title        = {Mirror-mediated spatial location in great tits (Parus major)},
  year         = {2018},
}