I control therefore I am: chimps self-aware, says study

May 04, 2011 by Laurent Banguet and Marlowe Hood
File photo of three female chimpanzees at the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. v

Chimpanzees are self-aware and can anticipate the impact of their actions on the environment around them, an ability once thought to be uniquely human, according to a study released Wednesday.

The findings, reported in the , challenge assumptions about the boundary between human and non-human, and shed light on the evolutionary origins of consciousness, the researchers said.

Earlier research had demonstrated the capacity of several species of primates, as well as dolphins, to recognize themselves in a mirror, suggesting a fairly sophisticated sense of self.

The most common experiment consisted of marking an animal with paint in a place -- such as the face -- that it could only perceive while looking at its reflection.

If the ape sought to touch or wipe off the mark while facing a mirror, it showed that the animal recognised itself.

But even if this test revealed a certain degree , many questions remained as to how animals were taking in the information. What, in other words, was the underlying ?

To probe further, Takaaki Kaneko and Masaki Tomonaga of the Primate Research Institute in Kyoto designed a series of three experiments to see if chimps, our closest cousins genetically, to some extent "think" like humans when they perform certain tasks.

Photo illustration. Research has demonstrated the capacity of several species of primates, as well as dolphins, to recognize themselves in a mirror, suggesting a fairly sophisticated sense of self.

In the first, three females initiated a video game by placing a finger on a touch-sensitive screen and then used a trackball, similar to a computer mouse, to move one of two cursors.

The movement of the second cursor, designed to distract or confuse the chimps, was a recording of gestures made earlier by the same animal and set in motion by the computer.

The "game" ended when the animal hit a target, or after a certain lapse of time.

At this point, the chimp had to identify with his finger which of the two cursors he had been manipulating, and received a reward if she chose correctly. All three animals scored above 90 percent.

"This indicates that the chimpanzees were able to distinguish the cursor actions controlled by themselves from those caused by other factors, even when the physical properties of those actions were almost identical," the researchers said.

But it was still not clear whether the good performance was truly due to the ability to discern "self-agency", or to observing visual cues and clues, so the researchers devised another set of conditions.

This time they compared two tests. The first was the same as in the previous experiment.

In the second, however, both cursors moved independently of efforts to control them, one a repeat of movements the chimp had generated in an earlier exercise, and the other a repeat of an "decoy" cursor. The trackball, in essence, was unplugged, and had no connection to the screen.

Two pygmy chimpanzees check for fleas on April 4, 2011 at the zoo in Frankfurt/M., western Germany. Takaaki Kaneko and Masaki Tomonaga of the Primate Research Institute in Kyoto designed a series of three experiments to see if chimps, our closest cousins genetically, to some extent "think" like humans when they perform certain tasks.

If the animals performed well on the first test but poorly on the second, the scientists reasoned, it would suggest that they were not simply responding to visual properties but knew they were in charge.

The final experiment -- used only for the most talented of the -- introduced a time delay between trackball and cursor, as if the two were out of sync, and a distortion in the direction the cursor moved on the screen.

All the results suggested that "chimpanzees and humans share fundamental cognitive processes underlying the sense of being an independent agent," the researchers concluded.

"We provide the first behavioural evidence that can perform distinctions between self and other for external events on the basis of a self-monitoring process."

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Squirrel
4 / 5 (4) May 04, 2011
The paper "The perception of self-agency in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)" has an open access pdf that can be found here
http://rspb.royal...pdf+html
epsi00
2.7 / 5 (3) May 04, 2011
We are getting there slowly but surely. We are no different from our cousins. Get used to it. It's the " glass is half-full or half-empty " syndrome. Some think recognizing that animals are self aware is in a sense demoting us because now we share something important with them ( beside more than 90% of the genes ) and some will view it as promoting animals to a place that is theirs in the order of things. A chimp is not a stone and nature has not given a big brain to a stone.

Here's a much simpler experiment that anyone can do at home or elsewhere. Try to hit any animal and see if they try to avoid being hit or not. Maybe the ones who let you hit them think that you are trying to hit "someone" else because they do not have the idea of self.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (6) May 04, 2011
Here's a much simpler experiment that anyone can do at home or elsewhere. Try to hit any animal and see if they try to avoid being hit or not. Maybe the ones who let you hit them think that you are trying to hit "someone" else because they do not have the idea of self.
Yeah let's not and say we did.

Do you think bacteria are self aware? They certainly attempt to avoid the sources of pain and death just as you, I, and any animal would.
Mesafina
3.6 / 5 (5) May 04, 2011
@Skeptic_Heretic I would argue that there is little evidence that most bacteria have the capacity to experience anything like "pain". What forms of negative reinforcement they possess are going to be far more primitive then what we think of as pain. But I don't disagree with your point, bacteria clearly also lack the capacity for self-awareness, at least as we think of it. I do think that most animals with brains are likely self-aware to a degree, even if they aren't smart enough to recognize themselves in a mirror. They will still think in terms of "I am hungry" or "I am scared" which are products of a level or self awareness.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (7) May 04, 2011
I do think that most animals with brains are likely self-aware to a degree, even if they aren't smart enough to recognize themselves in a mirror.
I'm not sure we're operating with the same definition of self-aware. The definition above, and the one I use is the ability to identify yourself. If an animal isn't 'smart' enough to recognize it's reflection, that is a definitive inability to be aware of what they are. Reflexive response, 'I am hungry', 'I am afraid', aren't 'I'. It's 'scared', 'hungry', because there is no delineator of 'I'.
jmcanoy1860
4 / 5 (4) May 04, 2011
Considering that with the "rouge test" we know that many animals including birds are self aware (or at least recognize themselves in a mirror)this is hardly an earth shattering conclusion.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (4) May 04, 2011
Considering that with the "rouge test" we know that many animals including birds are self aware (or at least recognize themselves in a mirror)this is hardly an earth shattering conclusion.

The Earth Shattering component is that they can anticipate what their actions bring about. That level of mental abstraction is very difficult to quantify in non-human animals. This means that the primate theory of mind is one step closer to oours.
JamesThomas
5 / 5 (6) May 04, 2011
A crow can use several tools sequentially to the end result of gathering food. I would say they are anticipating what their actions bring about. They are certainly thinking several steps ahead in order to construct or find the right tools to get the job done.

All I can say is that the more we study the life around us, it seems we most always find it more intelligent than first thought, rather than less.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (3) May 04, 2011
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5 / 5 (5) May 04, 2011
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5 / 5 (2) May 04, 2011
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jmcanoy1860
5 / 5 (4) May 04, 2011
Considering that with the "rouge test" we know that many animals including birds are self aware (or at least recognize themselves in a mirror)this is hardly an earth shattering conclusion.


I enjoy the fact that chimps understand the implications of their actions and I like having additional ammunition for arguments with cretinists. Porpoises, crows, african gray parrots, chimps, etc have all been shown to have the ability to understand ramifications already.
hush1
not rated yet May 04, 2011
What is so self evident that even as a definition makes no sense?
The conjecture is: That will not be any language you or I know.

Another words, what does not need defining?

Paint? What about lipstick? :)
epsi00
not rated yet May 04, 2011
Do you think bacteria are self aware? They certainly attempt to avoid the sources of pain and death just as you, I, and any animal would.


Do bacteria have brains? and if they do, how big is it?

Self awareness is the product of a brain function. No brain, no self awareness. There is obviously a continuum of brain size in the animal world ( including us ), from the smallest to the largest. The size of the brain determines its functions. We have never determined the transition point between brain size and related functions. But chimps do have a big brain so I am not surprised that they are self aware. In fact I will be shocked if someone proves that they are not. Nature does not give you a big brain just for fun or because nature is generous. Big brain is synonymous with higher functions.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (2) May 04, 2011
Self awareness is the product of a brain function.
That's unknown.
No brain, no self awareness.
That's also unknown.
There is obviously a continuum of brain size in the animal world ( including us ), from the smallest to the largest. The size of the brain determines its functions.
And this last line is entirely disproved. Brain size has little to do with brain function according to recent research. Brain complexity appears to be a greater indicator of brain function, sense of self, and other hierarchial functions.
Isaacsname
not rated yet May 04, 2011
Non-human animals have feelings and memories based only around what they know and are familiar with, ie: their environments. An animal raised by another species thinks for all practcal purposes that it is that foster species, ie: imprinting. If the " level " of intelligence that we ascribe to various life is based soley on one's ability to operate machinery or type a sentence, then perhaps we are being a wee bit narrow-minded.

The only real difference, imo, is that man strives to find purpose.
epsi00
1 / 5 (2) May 04, 2011
Self awareness is the product of a brain function.

That's unknown.
No brain, no self awareness.
That's also unknown.


so a stone, which we know does not have a brain, may be self aware? or is it that we just don't know like you said.

I agree that brain complexity is the important factor more than the size.
VitalStatistic63
not rated yet May 04, 2011
As far as animals being aware of their actions on their environment, my dog drags his blanket around to various places in the back yard so he has something soft and warm to sit on and be near us. I think it's ridiculous to think that animals have no sense of self. Certainly not the higher species at least.
dan42day
1 / 5 (1) May 05, 2011
My car is somewhat aware. It knows if someone rocks it or opens it's doors, or sits in a seat. Somewhat like a bacteria I suspect. Self aware is about being aware that you are aware.
RobertKarlStonjek
5 / 5 (1) May 05, 2011
The audio version uses recorded (non-word voice/call: word usage and accent provide non-vocal cues), the olfactory version uses such things as urine on the ground. Can humans pass the olfactory test? Many people do not recognise their own voice (call/bark) on tape and can not identify their own odour on the ground, meaning that the typical human can only manage one out of three (FAIL) of the self recognition tests...dogs, cats and non-human primates can typically recognise their own call and odour ie two out of three (PASS).

Does anyone notice that self recognition tests select a sense which humans are good at (vision via mirror) and avoid senses in which humans are poor and in which other animals better us (the olfactory)??
hush1
1 / 5 (1) May 05, 2011
All I can say is that the more we study the life around us, it seems we most always find it more intelligent than first thought, rather than less.


Does anyone notice that self recognition tests select a sense which humans are good at (vision via mirror) and avoid senses in which humans are poor and in which other animals better us (the olfactory)??


The Earth Shattering component is that they can anticipate what their actions bring about. That level of mental abstraction is very difficult to quantify in non-human animals.


Kudos. Your quotes (words!) shows what you anticipated with what you bring about with words - in your own species. Insight.

I can claim to have understood your insights (words).
No longer is there a way of knowing if the source - (my response, my words to you, me) - are human.

That is not important. Any non-human life form responding to you here in this form of understanding (language) is a threat and your greatest desire.

I understand. :)
Javinator
not rated yet May 05, 2011
My car is somewhat aware. It knows if someone rocks it or opens it's doors, or sits in a seat. Somewhat like a bacteria I suspect. Self aware is about being aware that you are aware.


Your car is "aware" due to the computer within the car. It takes signals from its sensors and processes them. The computer in a car works similar to a brain (in a very basic way).
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet May 05, 2011
Self awareness is the product of a brain function.
That's unknown.
No brain, no self awareness.
That's also unknown.
so a stone, which we know does not have a brain, may be self aware?
No, however plants do not have brains and there is a cursory amount of evidence showing some species to be self aware.
ahmedgnz
not rated yet May 08, 2011
Plants do not have brains and there is a cursory amount of evidence showing some species to be self aware.


That a plant might be aware of stimuli from its environment doesn't makes it self-aware. Failure to distinguish between awareness and self-awareness is muddling much of our scientific discourse today. If we posit that Einstein's "observer" possesses awareness of the frame of reference but not necessarily awareness of self, then we can more easily see how this awareness the frame of reference itself is a fundamental property of the universe. Even photons possess this rudimentary awareness according to the quantum interference and observation experiments. No anthropic principle necessary. Self-awareness might manifest itself when a mechanism of sufficient complexity, biological or otherwise, can act as capacitor and amplifier of awareness. This implies further evolutionary states beyond the self-awareness humanity experiences today.
random
3 / 5 (1) May 08, 2011
Why does self awareness have to be a binary property? Can't we conceive a spectrum of self awareness, on which microorganisms exist at one end, humans somewhere halfway, with our primate friends trailing close behind, and God-like beings at the other?
CSharpner
not rated yet May 10, 2011
I think if you ask 10 people to define "self-awareness", you'll get 10 different definitions. I'm enjoying reading these comments, but I'd like to request that each participant lay out a clear definition of what THEY mean by "self-aware". I think we'll find everyone's likely talking apples and oranges.