6SN7 / CC BY 2.0

Dogs Are Likely More Self-Aware Than You'd Think, New Study Says

A researcher found an interesting way to show dogs likely have concepts of "self" and "others."

By Ryan Biek | December 9, 2015

Psychologists have long wondered just how unique self-consciousness, as humans know it, is. But now, a researcher from a Russian university has shown dogs, and likely many other animals, are more self-aware than you might think

So how do we know if an animal has concepts of "self" and "other" if it can't tell us? The perennial method has been a mirror test. 

A colored dot is put on the forehead of the animal without it noticing. Then, the animal is put in front of a mirror, and if its reaction to the dot involves touching itself, instead of the reflection, we can assume the animal is self-aware. (Video via National Geographic)

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But this new study's researcher, Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, noted dogs are usually pretty uninterested when it comes to mirrors –– and they're not the only ones.  

Gatti said in a press release, "Only humans and great apes (gorillas excluded), a single Asian elephant, some dolphins, Eurasian magpies, and some ants have passed the test of mirror self-recognition."

He didn't believe other animals that often failed, like dogs, birds and pandas, did so out of a lack of self-consciousness. He believed they simply weren't as sensitive to visual stimuli as humans. (Video via CNN)

So Gatti released four dogs individually into a cage for five minutes. Inside the cage were containers with urine samples from each dog, and one container filled with cotton to act as a control. The dogs spent significantly more time smelling the other dogs' samples than their own, confirming they have some form of a self-concept. 

Gatti said some further tweaks are needed to know for sure if dogs have a sense of self, instead of just a sense of what belongs to them. 

But he called his study a "starting point," and hopes it'll spur more studies of self-consciousness beyond tests of visual perception. 

This video includes images from 6SN7 / CC BY 2.0D G Brown / CC BY 2.0Haley Redshaw / CC BY SA 2.0 and Aly1963 / CC BY 2.0

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