Cognitive Trammeling

Self-Recognition in the Pica Pica?

In the August issue of PLoS Biology, Helmut Prior, Ariane Schwarz, Onur Gunturkun released their findings in a paper titled “Mirror-Induced Behavior in the Magpie (Pica pica): Evidence of Self-Recognition.” Self-recognition has been shown in chimpanzees, orangutans, pygmy chimpanzees, dolphins, and elephants, but has yet to be discovered in birds.

The researchers conducted mirror mark tests, where a colored mark is put on the bird in a place that is not viewable by the bird, but can be seen in a mirror. A total of two tests in four separate conditions were conducted for each of the five birds; two tests in a cage with no mirror and two tests in a cage with a mirror. In two of the conditions, the birds had a colored dot put just below their beak and in the other two conditions, the birds had a black dot put below their beak (the black dot was unable to be seen and used as a control). The researchers divided the behavior of the birds into two categories: mark-directed behavior and self-directed behavior. Mark-directed behavior was defined by the bird touching the area that was marked with either it’s beak or foot. Self-directed behavior was defined as the bird touching any other area on it’s body, other than the marked area, with it’s beak or foot.

After the tests were said in done, three of the birds had shown signs of self-recognition and two of the birds showed no signs of self-recognition. One bird stood out from the rest of the pack. Gerti, the birds name, had 14.5 mark-directed touches and 4.5 self-directed touches during the mirror/colored dot test. The researches concluded that, essentially, a neocortex is not a prerequisite for self-recognition.

While further research may discover that a neocortex is not a prerequisite for self-recognition, I do not think that this research shows this fact, at all. In my opinion, the research, at best, shows that a very small percentage of Magpie’s might possess the ability of self-recognition, but further testing needs to be done. Take a look at the following table. Three birds, Gerti, Goldie, and Schatzi, showed a mark-directed behavior. The other two, Harvey and Lily, did not. The only bird to successfully create mark-directed touches int he second mirror/color test was Gerti. None of the other birds did this.

With the present data, it seems as though that the best conclusion would be to need further data. The present data shown does not show that the Pica pica has the ability of self-recognition. Gerti is the only possible evidence, but based on the other evidence present, it seems that there might be some outside reason for this. For now, it seems that the neocortex has just might be a prerequisite for self-recognition.

Reference: Prior H, Schwarz A, Gunturkun O (2008) Mirror-induced behavior in the magpie (Pica pica): Evidence of self-recognition. PLoS Biol 6(8): e202. doi:10.1371/journal.

Here’s a link to the paper: Mirror-Induced Behavior in the Magpie (Pica pica)


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