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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Aug 9;102(32):11140-7. Epub 2005 Jul 29.

The monkey in the mirror: hardly a stranger.

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  • 1Living Links Center, Emory University, Atlanta, GA 30322, USA.


It is widely assumed that monkeys see a stranger in the mirror, whereas apes and humans recognize themselves. In this study, we question the former assumption by using a detailed comparison of how monkeys respond to mirrors versus live individuals. Eight adult female and six adult male brown capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) were exposed twice to three conditions: (i) a familiar same-sex partner, (ii) an unfamiliar same-sex partner, and (iii) a mirror. Females showed more eye contact and friendly behavior and fewer signs of anxiety in front of a mirror than they did when exposed to an unfamiliar partner. Males showed greater ambiguity, but they too reacted differently to mirrors and strangers. Discrimination between conditions was immediate, and blind coders were able to tell the difference between monkeys under the three conditions. Capuchins thus seem to recognize their reflection in the mirror as special, and they may not confuse it with an actual conspecific. Possibly, they reach a level of self-other distinction intermediate between seeing their mirror image as other and recognizing it as self.

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