Dolphin
Research: Summaries

seeing through sound

understanding language

understanding questions

communication through television

vigilance

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 Body Parts

Very early, children learn to identify their own body parts in "show me" requests. They can point to salient features when requested, such as their nose, eyes, or hair. Awareness of the location and function of our own body parts seems so basic that we may take it for granted. However, there are certain brain lesions that interfere with this awareness. For example, in autotopagnosia, generally associated with lesions of the parietal lobe,


Dolphin touches the frisbee with her belly as directed.

Dolphin displays her dorsal fin to her trainer.

Dolphin touches her mouth to the ball.

patients lose conscious awareness of their own body parts. If the patient is asked to point to his nose, ear, knee, or other body part, the patient cannot do so, because he doesn't know where it is. Yet the patient can identify a body part correctly if the doctor points to it and asks the patient what is this. Thus, semantic knowledge is not lost, only topographical knowledge. At our laboratory, we tested the dolphin's awareness of its own body parts. We assigned gestural symbols to each of nine body parts, rostrum, mouth, melon, side, belly, dorsal fin, pectoral fin, genitals, and tail. We then asked the dolphin to use a named body part in four different ways: to touch an object, to toss an object, or to shake the body part, or simply to display it. The dolphin was adept in all cases. It could use the same body part in different ways, such as touching or tossing and object with its dorsal fin, or shaking its dorsal fin or displaying it. It could also use different body parts in the same way, for example tossing objects with any of the nine body parts. The dolphin thus demonstrated conscious awareness and conscious control of its body parts. Most impressive was the ability of the dolphin to use named body parts in novel ways such as touching a basket with its belly or tossing and objects with its genital area.

Herman, L. M., Matus, D., Herman, E. Y K., Ivancic, M., & Pack, A. A. (2001). The bottlenosed dolphin's (Tursiops truncatus) understanding of gestures as symbolic representations of body parts. Animal Learning and Behavior, 29 (3), 250-264.

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