Elephant Paints Portrait: Trick or Something More?


Watch Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He7Ge7Sogrk

Training an elephant to paint a detailed picture of another elephant holding a flower is probably way more difficult then Pavlov training his dogs to salivate. This video taken in Thailand shows that animals can learn to have the most amazing talents through the correct training. This elephant was trained using treats, like sugar cane and bananas. The elephants' trainer help the elephants learn how to hold a paintbrush and create paint strokes on a canvas, but the trainers tend to let the elephants paint their own creations, expand their own creativity and develop a style.

This talent poses a few questions: Is this elephant's gift just due to training? Or does this show animals have some level of consciousness as well? The elephant has been known for its great memory, but is it possible that elephants have self-awareness and self-recognition? They have the ability to paint portraits that accurately depict images of their own species. Do they view the world the ways humans do? Elephants are not the only creatures in the animal kingdom with stunning cognitive abilities. Many primates, dolphins, birds and insects have similar amazing qualities that allow for self-recognition and other examples of powerful brain functions. Do you believe that all animals have a high level of consciousness?



I believe that the elephants' "gifts" of artistic creativity are just due to patient training by the caretakers. I looked up a video of an elephant painting another elephant and I noticed two things:

As described in the caption, "her mahout talks to her throughout the process as his gentle touch gives her confidence. She focuses on her work and seems to enjoy... the sugar cane and banana treats."

It's entirely possible that she's done the painting many times with instructions of movements to make, rather than encouragement. In addition, the treats at the end of a successful painting will be the UCS and so she'd be motivated to paint well. I do not think this is an great example of elephants' consciousness and self-recognition.

I liked what you posted and I enjoyed watching video clips. And I will just expand my thoughts from the following:

When I watched a video that you linked, I was surprised of his quiet detail paintings and colorings. Needless to say, it must be an outcome of hard training. However, I was bit suspicious about the ability of their consciousness. As you mentioned, several animals have higher consciousness level. I agree that the elephant has powerful brain function, but if he really aware the object that he needs to draw, he should be able to not only the shape of elephant that are encoded in his memory of brain due to repeated training, but also instantly draw the elephant in front of a canvas. I assume that the elephant draws other elephant holds flower cannot draw other elephants take other motion.

It is true and remarkable thing that elephants can paint although he had been trained, but its training limits within the experimental validity which is internal. It cannot expand its painting skills such as choosing color to draw or 3D dimensional drawings.

I think that the elephants amazing talent has much to do with the patient conditioning, but I also believe that many animals could have a bit more than expected conciousness. I have been around animals my whole life and some emotional conciousness that they show makes me believe there is more there. I could be very wrong and I have no doubt that this elephant could learn how to paint without the help of operant conditioning, but I also believe that there may be a larger sense of conciouness than expected.

like everyone else who has commented on here i believe that the artistic ability of this elephant is mostly due to how well it has been trained and how it knows it is going to receive a treat once it finishes the painting. i think that the trainers easily could have picked another elephant and over time taught it the same type of painting skills that this elephant had. But, I do think that some animals, including elephants, do have a consciousness. The fact that this elephant is even able to make marks on paper shows that there is some type of thought process going on.

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This page contains a single entry by menn0073 published on February 26, 2012 11:06 PM.

Animal trick or human prick? was the previous entry in this blog.

We Have a Conscious, but Do Animals? is the next entry in this blog.

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