More than 30 years ago I captured this shot of my son playing with his image in the mirror. Besides being completely adorable, it also reflects (ha!) something important about identity, and how psychologists study identity.We humans are self-aware. That is, among the mental images we hold that represent important things in our world, we hold mental images of ourselves. I can think of myself as an entity separate from others, and know about my thoughts, feelings, intentions, and actions. It was back in 1970 that psychologist Gordon Gallup figured out a way to determine whether something that can’t talk possesses this kind of self-concept: the mirror test. What he did was sneak a smudge of bright red rouge or lipstick on a baby’s face and then have the baby look into a mirror. Little babies seem to think the face in the mirror is another baby, for instance smiling and reaching as they would to a potential playmate (as my son is doing in this photo). Somewhere around age two, though, they start to notice the bright red smudge on the face of the baby in the mirror and reach to touch the spot on their own faces. They apparently know that they are looking at themselves.
It’s fascinating to know whether a baby recognizes itself in the mirror. Even more fascinating is to figure out whether other animals do the same. So far, mirror self-recognition has been demonstrated in several species of animals, including great apes (which includes us), elephants, dolphins, and some birds. it just goes to show that the things we value most about ourselves are not all that different from some of the animals we share the planet with.
Posted in response to the WordPress Photo Challenge: Face