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Self-Awareness In Fishes: When Passing The Mirror Test Isn’t Enough

Studies show that the perceptual and cognitive abilities of fish often match or exceed those of other vertebrates, suggesting that the cognition of fishes could more closely approach those found in humans and other apes.

LUKAS JASIUNAS: ‘The ability to perceive and recognize a reflected mirror image of oneself has long been considered a hallmark of cognition among species. Around 65% of human infants pass the mirror test by the age of 18 months, and scientists claim that accomplishing this act truly takes self-awareness. And although it’s true that some other animal species such as primates, elephants, dolphins, and corvids can also pass it, many others appear to be unable to rise to the challenge of recognizing themselves in a mirror… Previous studies show that the perceptual and cognitive abilities of fish often match or exceed those of other vertebrates, suggesting that the cognition of fishes could more closely approach those found in humans and other apes…

A group of scientists from Japan, Switzerland, and Germany… set off to investigate whether cleaner wrasses (L. dimidiatus), a type of small reef fishes, could pass the mirror test… The researchers found that… the fishes passed the test but this does not necessarily mean they are self-aware.. They concluded that interpreting the results of a standardized test subjectively is both logically untenable and taxonomically chauvinistic… Animal advocates will surely take issue with keeping any species in captivity simply to study their sentience.

Although the study does not “prove” self-awareness in fishes, it does open up a discussion on the proper ways of establishing the presence of such a cognitive quality, and reveals the inadequacy of current methods. The results will surely spark further discussion on fish as the intelligent and sentient animals that they so clearly are; for advocates, this discussion necessarily involves considering non-invasive ways to further study them. Resolving the potential inadequacy of cognition determination tests – and how to conduct them ethically – is of utmost importance, because the intelligence of many species might be overlooked simply due to biological differences’. SOURCE…

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