Self-awareness in both animals and young children is usually tested using the ‘mirror self-recognition test’ to see if they understand that the reflection in front of them is actually their own. Only a few species have so far shown themselves capable of self-recognition – great apes, dolphins, magpies and elephants. It is thought to be linked to more complex forms of perspective taking and empathy.
Critics, however, have argued that this test is limited in its ability to investigate complex thoughts and understanding, and that it may be less useful in testing animals who rely less on vision than other species.
One potential complement to the mirror test as a measure of self-understanding may be a test of ‘body-awareness’. This test looks at how individuals may recognise their bodies as obstacles to success in a problem-solving task. Such a task could demonstrate an individual’s understanding of its body in relation to its physical environment, which may be easier to define than the distinction between oneself and another demonstrated through success at the mirror test.