Mirror, Mirror on the wall, Cock-a-Doodle-Doo | ET REALITY

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The idea of ​​a chicken running with its head cut off, inspired by a real life story, can make it seem like the bird doesn’t have much to do above. But Sonja Hillemacher, an animal behavior researcher at the University of Bonn in Germany, always knew that chickens were more than just a source of wings and nuggets.

“They’re a lot smarter than you think,” Hillemacher said.

Now, in a study published in the journal PLOS One On Wednesday, Hillemacher and his colleagues say they have found evidence that roosters can recognize themselves in mirrors. In addition to shedding new light on the intellect of chickens, the researchers hope their experiment can prompt reassessments of the intelligence of other animals.

The mirror test is a common, but controversial, self-awareness test. It was introduced by psychologist Gordon Gallup in 1970. He housed chimpanzees with mirrors and then marked their faces with red dye. The chimpanzees did not seem to notice until they could see their reflections, and then they began to inspect and touch the marked spot on their faces, suggesting that they recognized themselves in the mirror. The mirror test has since been used to assess self-recognition in many other species. But only a few, like dolphins and elephants – have passed.

After being tested on primates, the mirror test became “somehow sealed in an almost magical way as sacred,” said Onur Güntürkün, a neuroscientist at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany and an author of the study who worked with Hillemacher and Inga Tiemann. . also at the University of Bonn. But different cognitive processes are active in different situations, and there is no reason to think that the mirror test is accurate for animals with sensory abilities and social systems very different from those of chimpanzees.

The roosters did not pass the classic mirror test. When the team marked them with pink powder, the birds showed no inclination to inspect or touch the spot in front of the mirror as Dr. Gallup’s chimpanzees did.

Alternatively, the team tested roosters’ self-awareness in a more bird-friendly way.

Roosters do not simply crow in the morning to wake up farmers. They have been known to shout to warn each other when a hawk flies overhead. But when they are alone and a predator is nearby, they remain silent to avoid attracting attention.

Hillemacher fought the roosters and gave them time in an enclosure with a mirror, so they could get used to the experimental setup. Because roosters warn others more reliably than hens, the team decided to focus on them, but they believe the test results apply to all hens. He then projected a silhouette of a hawk onto the roosters to see how they would react.

When another rooster was seen through a partition, the rooster subject to an experiment screamed to warn the other of the danger. When he was left alone without a mirror, the bird stayed still. When another rooster was present, but blocked from view by a mirror, the test subject still tended to remain silent.

The researchers interpreted this behavior to mean that the rooster did not perceive that its reflection was another rooster, and they felt that it also showed that the birds sensed each other with sight, not hearing or smell.

“Potentially, this study shows strong evidence for self-awareness,” said Masanori Kohda, a biologist at Osaka Metropolitan University in Japan, who was not involved in the research. “However, these results will not be enough to convince all scientists.”

Dr. Kohda emphasized the need to perform more control experiments to rule out other possibilities. Dr. Kohda knows well how difficult it can be to persuade scientists, after his own efforts to demonstrate self-awareness. on the bluestreak cleaner fish.

Dr Tiemann next hopes to explore differences between roosters in how loudly they crow, which she says has implications for protecting flocks from predators. “We’re trying to identify those roosters who like to warn,” she said, “who take their job seriously.”

The authors also hope that other researchers will use their approach to test other animals that warn each other about danger, or to test self-awareness in ways that are relevant to the animals in the experiment. It is possible that many animals that did not pass the original mirror test will pass a test more adapted to their way of life.

“If ecologically relevant behaviors such as the alarm sound in chickens are used in animal self-awareness studies, the animals’ self-awareness will be better judged,” Dr. Kohda said. “The original brand test exactly delays progress in understanding the animal mind.”

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