Research: Summaries

seeing through sound

understanding language

understanding questions

communication through television


pointing gestures

awareness of one's own behaviors

awareness of one's own body parts

behavioral mimicry

dolphin research publications

whale research

Awareness of One's Own Recent Behaviors

Self-awareness is a rich but controversial concept with many facets. Can self-awareness be demonstrated in animals? A mirror self-recognition task has been used most often for this purpose. Chimpanzees and, recently, dolphins have been shown to recognize themselves in a mirror, as indicated by their attention to and inspection of marks placed on their body. The marks can only be seen with the aid of a mirror. At our laboratory, we have asked other types of questions about self-awareness. One of these
Dolphin responds correctly with "OVER" when asked to repeat her previous behavior.
questions is whether a dolphin is aware of its own recent behaviors. For this purpose, we ask the dolphin to perform a particular one of five different behaviors in response to a symbolic gesture given by a trainer. The behaviors were either OVER, UNDER, MOUTH, TAIL TOUCH or FLIPPER TOUCH. We then test the dolphin's awareness of which behavior it just performed by using one of two symbolic gestures after the dolphin completes the behavior. One, which we call Repeat, directs the dolphin to perform again the behavior it just completed. A second gesture, which we call Any, directs the dolphin to perform a behavior other than the one it just did, by selecting one of the remaining four from the set of five. For example, if the dolphin leaped over an object and was then given the REPEAT sign it must again jump over the object. But if it were given the ANY sign, it must select one of the remaining four behaviors and perform that. In the experimental procedure, the dolphin is in fact given a block of four instructions requiring various combinations of Repeat and Any. As an example, the dolphin might be instructed Over. In response, it leaps over an object and returns to the trainer. It then sees the gesture Any and touches the object with its tail, returning again to the trainer who now signs Repeat. The dolphin touched the object again with its tail, returns to the trainer, and sees the gesture Any. It returns to the object and swims under it, correctly completing the four-item sequence. The dolphin's ability to carry out whichever action is called for, repeating what it just did or choosing a different behavior, means that it must maintain a mental representation of the behavior it last performed and update that regularly as each new behavior is performed. In other words, it must remain aware of its own behaviors.

Mercado, E. III, Uyeyama R. K., Pack, A. A., & Herman, L. M. (1999). Memory for action events in the bottlenosed dolphin. Animal Cognition, 2, 17-25.
Mercado, E. III, Murray, S. O., Uyeyama, R. K., Pack, A. A., & Herman, L. M. (1998). Memory for recent actions in the bottlenosed dolphin (Tursiops truncatus): Repetition of arbitrary behaviors using an abstract rule. Animal Learning and Behavior, 26, 210-218.
Taylor, K. B. (1995). Self-selection and Self-monitoring of behavior by bottlenosed dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Unpublished master's thesis, University of Hawaii, Honolulu.

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