Overview

self-awareness


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A mental state in which the individual is aware of itself as having knowledge about itself. A dog may be aware that it is known by its name ‘Rover’. It may respond to the name Rover in such a way that indicates that it distinguishes between itself and other dogs (Caninae). Thus it may sit on the command ‘Rover sit’, but not to the command ‘Fido sit’, even when it is in the presence of another dog with the name ‘Fido’. However, such responses do not show that the dog knows that its name is Rover. They do not show that the dog had explicit knowledge of itself. If, however, the Rover looked in a mirror and knew that the image in the mirror was that of the dog called Rover, then it would have explicit knowledge about itself. It would have self-awareness.

Humans (above a certain age), chimpanzees (Pan sp.) and orang-utans (Pongo sp.), and possibly gorillas (Gorilla sp.) are claimed by some to have passed such mirror tests (e.g. they have investigated marks on parts of the body that they can see only through a mirror). Other primates, and other animals, have (so far) not passed the mirror tests.

An animal that possessed self-awareness might be expected to have some insight into the mental lives of other members of its own species. This line of thought gives rise to the topic, called theories of mind, and to experiments that aim to demonstrate that some animals do have such abilities.

Subjects: Zoology and Animal Sciences.


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