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Animals versus humans

  1. Aug 6, 2004 #1
    Are there examples of animals committing suicide when in great pain or captivity?

    Are humans the only animals with a self-conscience, in the sense of recognising themselves in a mirror?

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 6, 2004 #2


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    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 21, 2017
  4. Aug 7, 2004 #3
    Thanks! I should have thought of first trying Google...
  5. Aug 7, 2004 #4


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    There are situations where it would be hard to discern if non-human animals were comitting suicide or dying of natural causes. For example, refusal to eat could be suicidal or just that they feel too sick to eat. Whales that beach themselves and are then dragged back into water sometimes re-beach themselves, and nobody knows why. It could be a screwed up processing of direction, or they could be attempting suicide. The suicide aspect has been speculated upon, but we have no way to know. And there are those darned squirrels playing chicken in the roadways. You ask a tough question.

    The mirror question is probably easier to answer. But, even then, it's hard to know if the animals recognize themselves or think it's another of their species they are seeing (if you put a mirror up by a betta's fishbowl, you'll see it try to attack the reflection...the top of a dresser with a mirror is not a good home for a betta's bowl! Anyway, it's an example of the fish thinking the reflection is another fish, not recognizing it as itself. I'm not sure if even human babies realize their reflection is themself until they learn this from a parent...my friend's 14 mo old has recently learned to give kisses to other people and we watched in amusement as she tried to kiss the little girl she saw reflected in the surface of a glass table...she clearly didn't recognize the reflection as herself).
  6. Aug 7, 2004 #5


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    I'm not sure what you are describing is self-consciousness so much as mirror consciousness. I think animals are self-conscious, but many of them may not understand mirrors and how they work.
  7. Aug 8, 2004 #6
    There is an easy way to decide wether a baby recognises itself in a mirror. If you stick a bright colored sticker on the forehead of a baby and let it look in a mirror. After a certain age (I was shoked how high this was, about 4yrs or something...) instead of point at the sticker in the mirror the child will feel their own forehead to get the sticker off. I guess something like this could be done to certain animals too.

    And I totally agree on the difficulties that arise deciding wether it's suicide an animal is comitting or not...
  8. Aug 24, 2004 #7
    I think chimps are able to recognize themselves in a mirror. I've read of experiments when they paint little dots say over the chimps eye, and looking in the mirror he sees the dot and touches his face where the spot is...

    As for animal suicides, I'm less sure of that. I have heared of unhappy captured dolphins comitting suicide by repeatingly swimming into the wall of its pool, but I don't know if that's true at all.
  9. Aug 24, 2004 #8


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    Two things:
    - committing suicide: there are plenty of species which, when an individual is put in a cage, will 'commit suicide', e.g. by bashing their heads against the bars, or not eating. However, the question of 'intent' must be nigh impossible to determine.
    - mental models: lots of animals can apparently make mental models of 'others', be they prey, predators, or 'fellow critters'. 'Deceit' is, AFAIK, well documented behaviour among (some) other primates, but also in ravens! Clearly, deceit requires the deceiver to recognise the other, to have a model of the other's behaviour, and to act on that model. 'Problem solving' is another category of mental model; plenty of species have well documented capabilities in this area (some primates, some birds, ...). A third is 'acquired learning', e.g. some monkeys.

    So, it probably comes down to what you consider 'consciousness' to be :rolleyes: :eek:
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