If you ask a person to list the most intelligent animals, they are likely to name a monkey, a dolphin, and an elephant, as well as a crow, a dog, and sometimes a pig. The horse is not usually on this list. It seems all the more surprising that horses have an unusual ability that is often considered proof of self-awareness. It turns out that horses can recognize themselves in the mirror.
Animals looking in the mirror for the first time often react very violently because they think their reflection is another animal. After a while, this reaction disappears. Some animals lose interest in their reflection over time, while others continue to study the mirror and explore how they can make the reflection move using their bodies.
After the animals stop reacting to the “stranger in the mirror,” scientists test them with a “mark test.” The animal is given a large mark in a place they can only see in the mirror, such as their forehead or ear. And then scientists observe whether the animal spends more time touching that body part in front of the mirror when it is marked or not. If the animal pays particular attention to the part of the body with the mark, it indicates that it recognizes itself in the reflection.
This test was first used to demonstrate self-awareness in chimpanzees in 1970, and since then scientists have used the method in many other species. The results show that animals are rarely aware of themselves. Besides monkeys, some dolphin species, magpies and elephants can recognize themselves in the mirror.
But a new study by scientists in Italy has found evidence of self-awareness in horses. The animals, seeing the marks on their faces in the mirror, tried to erase them, so the scientists concluded that horses are aware of themselves and understand that they see their reflection in the mirror. However, experts believe that perhaps not all horses can recognize themselves in the mirror. And the results of a single test should not be attributed to the entire species.