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Can horses recognize themselves in the mirror?

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Quitzé Fernández
Quitzé Fernándezhttps://www.amonite.com.mx
Amonite es un sitio dedicado a la divulgación científica para niños y jóvenes. Somos un grupo de amigos que escucha, cuenta historias y las plasma en algo parecido a un papel. Por medio de la ilustración y los medios audiovisuales buscamos acercar las novedades de ciencia y tecnología con un lenguaje accesible para todos. Amonite es un proyecto binacional editado y diseñado entre México y Argentina. Nace en 2017 a iniciativa de Quitzé Fernández, quien obtuvo en 2013 el Premio Nacional de Periodismo y Divulgación Científica, convocado por el Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología de México (Conacyt), con la crónica La mujer que encontró dinosaurios en el patio de su casa. A él se unieron los ilustradores Daniel Galindo y Jess Silva, que han generado trabajo visual para diarios e instituciones del norte de México; y más adelante los periodistas José Juan Zapata y Jessica Jaramillo, en la edición y generación de contenido, desde Buenos Aires, Argentina. Todos ellos forman parte del staff permanente de Amonite, junto a un grupo de colaboradores que aportan sus visiones periodísticas, visuales y literarias del mundo de la ciencia.

Photo: Kaboompics (Pexels)

Recent studies have shown that some horses react in a peculiar way to mirrors. But the question remains as to whether it is a reflex or a mental state.
By: Laura Puentes

Lucia is a girl who grew up on a farm on the outskirts of the city. She has always been surrounded by domestic animals, from chickens and roosters to bulls, cows and horses. These last ones are his favorites, because one of them is his best friend: Horsy.

Horsy is a peculiar horse, his coat is dark brown with a dazzling shine and he has something that makes him stand out from the other horses. It is not only the affection that Lucía has for him, but an intelligence that has been discovered by chance.

One afternoon Lucía was walking with Horsy near the river, they stopped to rest and lay down next to a tree for a long time. At that, Lucía realized that she had a little mud on her face, she got up and on the riverbank took water with her hand to clean herself. Horsy followed her instinctively and as she approached the shore she saw her reflection and noticed that she had mud on her ear, which she began to point to with her other paw; Astonished Lucia watched Horsy’s action and she helped to clean it up.

After the walk they returned to the farm. Lucia took Horsy to her stable to rest, but she kept thinking about what her horse had done in the river. In the morning, at breakfast, the girl told her parents about Horsy’s feat and they were a little surprised, although they doubted the young woman’s words because they knew that she loved that horse.

Thinking about how to show her parents what Horsy had done, Lucía took a mirror to the stable and when she saw the reflection, the horse began to touch her ear where it had mud on the last occasion. His parents were also amazed at Horsy’s action.

the intelligence of horses
Although Lucía and Horsy are two fictional characters , there are scientists who have dedicated themselves to investigating the intelligence of horses. Usually the animals that see themselves in the mirror react as if it were another individual: they do not recognize themselves. But in other cases, curiosity is aroused. Here the scientists apply what is called the “mark test”, something similar to what Lucía did with Horsy.

According to Ali Boyle , a researcher at the University of Cambridge, who wrote a note for The Conversation magazine on this subject: “The animal is marked in a place that it can only see in the mirror, perhaps on the forehead or in the ear. . Next, scientists look to see if the animal spends more time touching this body part in front of the mirror when it’s marked than when it’s not. If it does, this suggests that the animal recognizes its reflection.”

These studies are not recent. In the 1970s, this test was applied mainly to primates , which were unreceptive to their own image in a mirror. However, it has also been applied to other species, including dolphins, magpies, and elephants .

Recently , a group of Italian researchers revealed that when horses are given this test, they are more likely to recognize themselves. According to the authors of this research, “self-recognition implies having a concept of oneself as a psychological agent with a mind”. However, this theory is not widely accepted by the scientific community, as they argue that self-recognition is a reflex and does not imply a mental state.

Thus, we can be sure that our Lucia from the story will feel happy and a little closer to her great friend now that she has discovered that, just like her, she can also see her reflection in the mirror.

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