Staring at the Stranger in the Mirror

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In the first portion of the BBC Horizon documentary, The Secret You, Oxford mathematician Marcus de Sautoy discusses the time when we become self aware. He spoke with a specialist conducting a mirror test on when, roughly, the human being knows visually who they are. She conducted a test that required a parent to distract a young child while they put a spot on their cheek. When the children look in the mirror, they should notice the spot and realize that it is not a part of them, that is, if they are self-aware. If they are not self-aware, they will look at themselves in the mirror and not realize that they are staring at themselves. The children that are self-aware will attempt to take the spot off, and the children that are not will not try to take the spot off. According to the video, self awareness is developed somewhere between 18 and 24 months of age.

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This is interesting to think about. We often take for granted our appearance and us knowing that it is us, but what in our brains causes us to realize that who we are inside and what we feel is the same person that we see in the mirror? This seems like it is something we take for granted, but there could be some kind of rare brain defect that never makes this connection. Does anyone know of such a disease? It would be eerie to look in the mirror everyday and not recognize yourself. It was also interesting that another person in the video said that with self awareness comes the realization that we will die one day. Do you agree with this? Does knowing our visual self really matter in knowing of our eventual end?

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I agree not being able to recognize yourself in the mirror is a very eerie thought. I believe the disease that you are looking for is Prosopagnosia which is a disease where the person cannot recognize faces. When only given a picture of their face they are unable to recognize it. But if they are able to see different things such as the clothes they are wearing then they can make the connection that it is them in the photograph. I do believe that it takes us to know our visual self to be able to grasp the idea of our eventual end. Without a concept of self there is no way the brain could grasp the concept of death.

I do believe that it is hard to except who we are when we look in the mirror. Some may be able to grasp where others avoid believing that that is them they are looking at. I dont know of an exact disease but people do look in the mirror and see all these negative things about what they see and change their way of living because of it. I have heard that once people have excepted who they are they are able to let go of life and die. Those that have not excepted who they are have a harder time of letting go of life. Without believing in who we are and we can not let go of what we are leaving behind.

Prosopagnosia is the the disorder in which people are not able to recognize faces, we learned about it in lecture. (Check out the lectures for a video of a woman with the disorder.) It is a condition that can develop in people after brain damage or some, about 2.5% of people, are born with the disorder. It can be a very debilitating disorder. People with this disorder cannot normally socialize with other people. They cannot recognize family and friends or read people's facial expressions. I do not think that knowing a person's visual self matters in knowing their "eventual end". What do you even mean by "eventual end"? I don't think that any person really knows their "eventual end" regardless of if they have prosopagnosia or not.

I do see how being able to recognize yourself visually goes in hand with our awareness or perception of our 'eventual end'. If one can't recognize themselves, then they can't really witness themselves through the aging process and thus this might alter their perception of when their life is coming to an end. For example, when my dad found a gray hair on his head, he made the expected comment of 'I'm getting old!'. If someone with Prosopagnosia went through the same thing, I think it'd be easier for them to live in denial of their eventual death. It'd be hard to really believe that the gray hair was coming from your head, if you didn't feel like that was really you in the mirror.

I do see how being able to recognize yourself visually goes in hand with our awareness or perception of our 'eventual end'. If one can't recognize themselves, then they can't really witness themselves through the aging process and thus this might alter their perception of when their life is coming to an end. For example, when my dad found a gray hair on his head, he made the expected comment of 'I'm getting old!'. If someone with Prosopagnosia went through the same thing, I think it'd be easier for them to live in denial of their eventual death. It'd be hard to really believe that the gray hair was coming from your head, if you didn't feel like that was really you in the mirror.

I actually don't believe the progression of self-awareness would play that large of a role in the acceptance/awareness of death. Being unable to recognize one-self in a mirror is one thing, but being aware of your physical condition, age and general knowledge of life and death is another thing. It is not wrong to say that someone may be a little deterred from the fact of exactly how old they may appear with this "disease", but I don't believe this is also the cause of one being oblivious to death.

I don't agree with the fact that being self-aware will give us a realization about our own death. Another blog post said that self awareness happens when we are 3/4yrs in age and that is why our visual memories date back only to that time. But as a kid we know nothing about death. I know i have enough self-awareness for my age but I don't want to think about death now. I have more things to accomplish in life and a realization about death is something unnecessary right now.

These are some intriguing ideas Kody. I believe the brain disorder you are thinking of is Prosopagnosia which is a deficit in the ability to recognize faces. Although I am not certain if this extends to one's ability to be self aware and recognize yourself in the mirror.

There are many interesting studies on self-awareness that use mirrors to induce people to be more honest, helpful and work harder toward their goals. It seems like seeing yourself in the mirror reminds us of our ideal self and makes it more difficult to justify bad behavior.

Self-awareness is also associated with the ability to contemplate your eventual death. There is an entire branch of social psychology devoted to this idea called Terror Management Theory. We are among the few creatures that do recognize that there is a dot on our head,(chimps, dolphins and some birds can as well) but most believe that we are the only species that know we will die. This can create great stress and anxiety and is often something we devote little time thinking about.

But when we do we tend to cling more firmly to cherished values. This is really an interesting aspect of psychology and if you are interested you should check out Ernest Becker's book, "The Denial of Death" You won't regret it.

These are some intriguing ideas Kody. I believe the brain disorder you are thinking of is Prosopagnosia which is a deficit in the ability to recognize faces. Although I am not certain if this extends to one's ability to be self aware and recognize yourself in the mirror.

There are many interesting studies on self-awareness that use mirrors to induce people to be more honest, helpful and work harder toward their goals. It seems like seeing yourself in the mirror reminds us of our ideal self and makes it more difficult to justify bad behavior.

Self-awareness is also associated with the ability to contemplate your eventual death. There is an entire branch of social psychology devoted to this idea called Terror Management Theory. We are among the few creatures that do recognize that there is a dot on our head,(chimps, dolphins and some birds can as well) but most believe that we are the only species that know we will die. This can create great stress and anxiety and is often something we devote little time thinking about.

But when we do we tend to cling more firmly to cherished values. This is really an interesting aspect of psychology and if you are interested you should check out Ernest Becker's book, "The Denial of Death" You won't regret it.

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This page contains a single entry by Kody Kolb published on February 22, 2012 11:25 AM.

Nature Vs. Nurture- A Twins Perspective was the previous entry in this blog.

You sleepwalked where?! is the next entry in this blog.

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