Self Awareness, or Spot Awareness?

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In the YouTube video BBC Horizon: The Secret You, the idea of when humans become aware of self is explored. Using a mirror test to asses self-awareness, it was determined that people become self aware between the ages of 18 and 24 months. The test involved putting a red spot on the face of a toddler, placing them in front of a mirror, and observing whether or not they removed the spot after seeing their reflection. The thought behind this is that if the child realized that the person in the mirror was himself, he would remove the spot from his face. Likewise, if he did not connect the person in the mirror with himself, he would leave the spot on his face.

This is a classic test that has been used numerous times to analyze self awareness in humans and even animals. However, there is a risk that rival hypotheses have not been ruled out. Perhaps the reason that children under the age of 18 months usually leave the spot on their face is not because they aren't self aware, but because they don't realize that the spot is out of the ordinary and should be removed. To test this, a study was performed in which children were asked to remove a spot on a doll's face before being exposed to their own marked face in the mirror. Indeed, in the original test only 45% of 18-month olds were regarded as "recognizers," but in the revised test it rose to 61%.


Asendorph, Jens B. "Self-Awareness and Other-Awareness II: Mirror Self-Recognition, Social Contingency Awareness, and Synchronic Imitation." Developmental Psychology 32.2 (1996): 313-21.


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I find it interesting that we aren't self aware until a certain stage of our development as humans. You'd think that a person. regardless of age, would just know when it's seeing itself. Good post.

I think this experiment is really interesting and creative. Although it is a knid of good idea to do so, there are still some coincidence may happen which will lead the experiment to error and make it not that accurate.

I agree, this experiment was very interesting and thought provoking. It's hard to imagine not being able to perceive yourself in a mirror. I'm curious though how this test would be done on animals?

The idea you formed in your blog that most of the time humans are unaware of self until the age of 18-24 months is also connected with infantile autism when we get to an older age and are asked to remember our childhood. In infantile autism we are unable to remember any earlier thoughts of true memory before the age of 2. Both your statement about when humans develop self awareness and infantile autism together rule out the ideas of psychotherapy bringing back memories of when you were in your mother's womb, etc. So in my opinion anyone who says they can remember things before the ages of 2-4 are making up false memories and easily rules out any of the memories people say they have. I also loved that you brought forth the idea that there needs to be more research on self awareness by performing different variations and multiple experiments to see if the 1st findings were completely accurate.

The topic of self awareness has always been intriguing to me. It is hard to imagine not being able to recognize yourself, even from such a young age. I agreed with the first hypothesis...until I read the second one. Both present a valid argument and if we are not self aware until about 18-24 months, then how are we supposed to recognize irregularities on our bodies? Especially based on what we've read in the book about children recognizing their mother's voices and being able to learn (to some extent) while still in the womb, it is very interesting that we are not able to recognize ourselves until about a year and a half!

It really is interesting how people can come up with such abstract experiment ideas. I mean to come up with putting a dot on somebody's head and having them look in a mirror in order to realize the dot was there and remove it is rather fascinating. However, I can see some potential errors within the experiment such as them feeling the dot and not needing the mirror in order to realize that they should remove it which would demonstrate anything more than physical sensation. Or perhaps they actually like the dot being there on their head and so they choose to leave it there.

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This page contains a single entry by somor003 published on February 25, 2012 5:42 PM.

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