The mirror self-recognition test is flawed, specious, obtuse, ignorant, and offensive

The mirror self-recognition test first described by psychologist Gordon Gallup Jr. in 1970 is an experiment to test whether animals or young children have a sense of self. It involves marking the animal/child (e.g., using a marker or paint or something to put a dot or x on their face) and then presenting them with a mirror and seeing if they show any interest in the mark. Most animals and even many human children tend to “fail” the test.

This test is all kinds of bad science. The biggest reason is that it presumes the animal/child even knows that the mark is unusual in the first place. If the animal has never seen its reflection before, why would it bother touching the mark? For all it knows, that’s just part of what it normally looks like, especially if the animal has stripes or spots or integument or pimples or scars or any other sort of markings. Just because the animal doesn’t pick at the mark doesn’t mean it doesn’t realize that’s its reflection, it just means that it doesn’t have any reason to or any interest in it.

Moreover, the test presumes that animals would be unaccustomed to their own reflection because there are no mirrors in nature. That’s obviously not true. While it might be amusing to picture, animals don’t routinely freak out and assume another animal is coming at them whenever they go to take a drink at a watering hole. They are fully aware that they are just seeing their own reflection. Duh. 🙄 And thanks to all the metal and glass that humans are putting everywhere, more and more animals are getting accustomed to seeing reflections and rapidly evolving.

Another factor is how many animals don’t try to evade running or flying or swimming into their reflection in a mirror. Do people think that animals don’t try to evade other animals normally? 🤨 Of course they do. The fact that they run into the mirror and don’t try to avoid their reflection shows that if anything, they KNOW it’s their reflection, and thus treat it differently than they would if it were another animal.

(Absurdly enough, if animals DO pay attention to their reflection, like dogs pawing at it, then humans will use that as “proof” that the animal doesn’t know it’s its reflection and thinks it’s another animal. Basically, humans refuse to give animals credit no matter what, and will only accept anything if humans have some sort of manipulation in the behavior. Typical. 😒)

One way to attempt to fix this test is to present the animal/child with a mirror before marking it and letting it get a good, long look at itself for a while, and then mark it with something over like a large neon-colored x (and do it quickly to ameliorate any effects of short memory). That way, the animal will actually be able to detect a change worthy of investigating (though even then, maybe it just doesn’t care 🤷).

Tiger drinking from watering hole with reflection
Yikes! A tiger wants to lick me! Better stop drinking and run away! 😲
Two giraffes drinking at watering hole with their reflections
Eek! There are giraffes in the water!

Squirrels Check Structural Integrity of Nuts to Determine Which to Bury and Which to Eat


Squirrels (and chipmunks, and likely other rodents) examine nuts to determine which to bury and which to eat.


Why do squirrels bury nuts? Why do they prefer in-shell nuts to shelled nuts?


Living in a townhouse for quite a few years, Melody Soroudi has had the opportunity to be up close and personal with squirrels (primarily black and grey), as well as other related rodents such as chipmunks. She has been feeding them shelled nuts for years and later added in-shell nuts, or what David Suzuki calls “five-dollar bills”.

Feeding them in-shell nuts created an interesting behavior in the squirrels: they began to bury the nuts much more often than when they were getting only shelled nuts. Why?

Obviously they bury them in order to store them for later use (like the Aesop’s Fable about the Ant and the Grasshopper), specifically for use in the spring when plants are dead or dried up and not fruiting. But surely they cannot bury all of the nuts, they must eat during the summer as well.

The fact is that they do, but they are selective and discerning about which nuts they eat and which they bury.


If you watch squirrels closely, the behavior becomes apparent. When they get a hold of a nut, they turn it over and over in their hands while examining it with their mouths. If they detect significant cracks or broken or missing pieces of shell, they rip it open and eat the nut(s) inside. If they detect the shell to be structurally intact, they bury it. They do not eat nuts whose shells have a small crack along a seam which are still “closed”, only those they deem to be “compromised”.

This is a logical move because a nut that is compromised is like a coffin with a hole, it will be invaded by bugs and worms and the like and not only get covered in soil, but decompose, or even germinate and start to grow. In fact, nuts that squirrels have lost and forgotten is one method by which some plants reproduce; the shell eventually dissolves and the nuts inside (assuming that they are not roasted) begin to grow. Squirrels are essentially farmers who plant seeds.

Followup Question

Why do squirrels prefer in-shell nuts to shelled nuts? Obviously an in-shell nut provides less energy and nutrients than shelled nuts.

The ones that have the shell only contain two (or occasionally three, but sometimes even just one) nut. They also take up more space and thus can be packed less efficiently, wasting room on shells and air. Also, they require extra work to remove the shell.

Shelled nuts on the other hand require no extra work to get at the valuable part and can be packed better to put more food in less space.

Clearly shelled nuts are more optimal than in-shell nuts. So why do squirrels and other rodents prefer the shells? Why do they prefer to store food for the future than to use it now like some animals do?

This is simple to explain. Larger animals like bears and camels have the physical space to store the energy for future use by plumping up and storing fat in their bodies, however, small rodents do not have that physical capacity, so they must store the food externally in their homes or in the ground.

In addition, large animals tend not to move too much, and thus consume less energy while foraging than small animals like rodents do. Squirrels and chipmunks travel long distances from their nests to look for nuts and run up and down trees and such and thus burn a lot of energy just to get food. Therefore they need to accumulate and store a lot of food for future use.

Monsters are People Too… Literally!

Most of the classic monsters are not actually separate species but humans that have been damaged or changed somehow.

  • Vampires are just humans that have been infected with a virus
  • Werewolves are also humans that have been infected with a virus
  • Zombies are likewise virus-infected humans
  • Mummies are dead humans that have somehow come back (usually through magic)
  • Skeletons are the same as zombies/mummies, but without their flesh
  • Witches are humans who use magic (usually for evil)
  • Ghosts are dead humans

Even more contemporary monsters like Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger, Michael Myers, Pinhead, Chucky, creepy Japanese girls, etc. are just humans that have been changed in some manner.

Of course, there are some monsters that are not human whatsoever, for example the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, demons, and such.

It is interesting however to realize that most monsters tend to be human. If one were to analyse that fact from a psychological viewpoint some interesting/obvious reasons would likely be found.

Technology Breeds “Patience”

Last night, CBS news did an article about the recent increase in airport security due to the attempted Christmas bombing. The anchor went to on to say how people have been okay with the extra wait times and delays that the increased security checks have created because passengers are more patient and understanding; that they are willing to put up with the extra wait times because they know that it is for their own good and safety, and that they are cheerful because it is the holidays, so they are in better, less rushed moods. Unfortunately the news team got it completely wrong.

The reason that people are more willing to put up with down time and delays these days, not just at airports, but everywhere: on the bus, at work, at the the DMV, in coffee-shop lines, etc. is because of technology. In the past, people disliked having to stand around and wait because it was such a waste of time. Having to stand or sit around and twiddle your thumbs, or at best read a book was really frustrating. Now however, with iPods, iPhones, PSPs, laptops, netbooks, Kindles, and so on, wait-time is no longer down-time, but break-time. Thanks to all of the varied gadgets and devices, we can now spend those two minutes here, 10 minutes there actually doing something useful, be it work or play, instead of waiting around, bored out of our minds.

To Move or Not to Move; That is the Question

This is a follow-up to When to Pull the Cord.

As social as people like to think of the human race, we also like our space. Aside from public bathrooms, the bus is one place where this is very evident.

What happens when you get on a bus and there are plenty of seats free? You sit where you want. What do you do when there are few seats free? You sit wherever you can. More often than not, unless they are getting on the bus with a friend, most people will put a seat or two between themselves and the next person, creating a buffer, personal space (even with a friend, a lot of people make a buffer). Only when there isn’t enough space will people usually sit immediately next to someone else.

The question then becomes, what happens when some people get off and seats free up? Do you get up and go get your own seat or do you stay next to the person you sat next to earlier? What would the person you’re sitting next to think if you do? If you don’t?

If you move, the person may be happy to get their own space again. Or the may feel insulted that you felt you needed to move, perhaps because you think they smell or something.

If you don’t move, they may be upset that they are still being crowded when there is space available. Or maybe they are relieved that you don’t find them offensive, and perhaps even that other people will think that there must be something appealing about them to keep you sitting next to them when there are now free seats.

No matter what you choose, there will be some people who will view it as good, and some people who will view it as bad (and some people who will view it in ways that normal minds cannot even conceive of). In the end it more or less balances out, so there is no mathematical solution, and you are better off just doing whatever you prefer if the person does not give you an indication of their preference.