Adorable kitten fails mirror self-recognition test (adorably)

This incredibly cute Persian kitten is hell-bent on destroying its new archenemy—its own reflection in a linoleum floor.

This is not a proper example of the Gallup Mirror Test—a classic tool for gauging animal self-awareness. (In the real test, researchers put two dye dots on the animal—one that it can see when it looks in the mirror and one that it can't—and judge whether the animal is aware that the image in the mirror is itself based on how it reacts to the dot it can see. Basically, does seeing that dot on itself in the mirror make it realize the dot is on its body?) Nevertheless, this kitten's response to its reflection isn't surprising, given that cats are not on the very short list of animals that can pass the Mirror Test.

Who does pass? Great apes, dolphins, elephants, magpies, and humans over the age of 18 months old. That last bit is particularly interesting in light of a couple of studies that have found a correlation between babies that can pass the mirror test, and babies that can "get" the concept of empathy with another individual.

(Thanks to John Pavlus!)


  1. I wonder how many mirrors they went through determining if elephants pass the mirror test.

  2. I don’t think this video shows whether the kitten recognizes itself or not, since it’s clearly playing, not fighting. Kittens play with anything, including their own tails, so I don’t think that a kitten that recognized its own reflection would see any reason not to play with it.

    1. perhaps you missed the part of the three paragraph post where it was mentioned that cats do not pass the mirror test.


      1. I saw that, but that doesn’t change the fact that *this* video doesn’t show whether the cat recognizes itself or not. And before you ask — yes, I saw the part of the post that acknowledges that this isn’t a proper mirror test. I’m just trying to point out that the cat would behave exactly the same way whether it recognized its reflection or not.

  3. I made a habit out of showing my son his reflection in a mirror and telling him that “That’s [my son’s name]!”

    Same week he grokked that, (he correlated his belly button to the one in the mirror) he came to understand that “Owie” was not a request for a pinch on us, and gently pinched himself, saying “Owie”, wherever I had pointed out the Owie on myself.

    Before then, he felt that Owie pinches or rubber band snaps on us (sixteen month old with a rubber band is a mischievous thing) were hi-larious.

    1. When my daughter was about 6 months old, we were looking at our reflection together in the bathroom mirror. When her father came into the bathroom behind us, she turned around to look at him. I know it’s not a valid mirror self-recognition test, but it really seemed to me at the time that she recognized that things she saw in the mirror were behind her, rather than in front of her. She seemed to know she was looking at herself well before 18 months, but that is about the age when she also started showing clear signs of empathy.

  4. Like jackie31337, our now 8-month old is, I am certain totally aware that the people he can see in the mirror are ‘us’ not other people, he just does not understand, I suspect, how it’s possible. He has taken to conducting his own experiments, looking from mother to mirror to mother for example, and smiling at the reflection of his mother then turning and checking that his mother is actually smiling in reality. I think that human babies have forms of self-awareness and understanding of others far earlier than some of the older research would suggest.

    As for cats, cats are as stupid as things come. I love my cats to bits, but intelligent they are not.

    1. “As for cats, cats are as stupid as things come. I love my cats to bits, but intelligent they are not.”

      Explain that to my mother’s cat, please. Then maybe he’ll stop opening all the closed doors in her house – by using the doorknobs.

    2. “As for cats, cats are as stupid as things come. I love my cats to bits, but intelligent they are not.”

      Ha! Let’s see you jump up on top of the fridge in one go!

  5. Surely ‘shadow’ would be far more accurate than ‘reflection’. Put that kitten on a mirrored (not ceramic tiled) floor and watch it go really crazy!

    (It’s a good thing wheelie bins do not have mirrored insides!)

  6. That kitten in no way recognizes his own reflection… he simply sees something “moving” on the floor and is playing with it.

  7. “As for cats, cats are as stupid as things come. I love my cats to bits, but intelligent they are not.”

    Apparently you do not own hamsters as pets. They have room in their heads for maybe about five notions (“ideas” is too strong a word), and once they get those five notions, their brains are full. For life.

  8. If memory serves, pigs can also pass the test — I think there was a New Yorker(?) article some months back about their surprising intelligence, but I can’t find it right now.

  9. Interestingly, I’ve yet to own a cat that even acknowledges that the moving picture in the mirror exists. Even the cats that got very excited when seeing a cat outside the window, or were interested in things moving on TV, reacted as if the mirror was a painted wall.

    On the other paw, I’ve had a dog that may not have recognized herself in the mirror, but she clearly recognized me – and would make direct eye contact via the mirror when she’d refuse to do so IRL. She would keep glancing at the “real me” to make sure I was watching the mirror, not her, and then go back to staring at my face.

    I’d say she had no idea the mirror thing worked two ways, but she did know that the mirror picture, while reflecting an accurate view of “me”, was not “really” me.

    I can’t even venture a guess if she was just interested in watching my face without challenging my dominance, or if it was quietly “subversive” behavior on her part, or what.

  10. For the love of humanity learn to use the white balance function, people. Your yellowy beigey world is blinding me!

    I love Persians. Their cute little pushed in faces get me every time. I don’t know why.

  11. Interestingly, I also fail the mirror test. I can no longer recognize the reflection in the mirror as me- he looks way too old.

  12. So the vast majority of adult dogs and cats who just completely ignore their mirror reflection–they’re not passing the test?

    I know my dog will bark at any other dog he sees, from the moment it enters his field of vision to the moment it leaves. I also know that he’s barked at his own very distorted reflection in my windows a few times (where the “mirror” is bad enough that it’s not obvious what’s going on). But he shows absolutely no reaction to the dog in the mirror.

    How do we score that? Just curious.

  13. I did a mirror test on one of my kids when he was about a year and a half. I stuck a sticker on his head and waited about 10 minutes until I was sure that he didn’t know it was there. I then put him in front of a mirror. He took one look, then reached up and removed the sticker. I thought it was pretty cool – eighteen months old and he already knew “that’s me.”

  14. There’s a problem with the Gallup Mirror Test:

    Cats (and other animals) that see their refection ignore it.

    Doesn’t that prove they know it’s their reflection and not a competitor?

    I’d love to hear other’s comments on this. It’s always seemed like a real weakness to the theory and I’ve never heard this possibility discussed.

  15. I’ve seen a kitten chase its reflection to the edge of a mirror and then look behind it — and then repeat.

    But they grow out of it, and cease to regard their reflection as anything out of the ordinary.

  16. My cat tried to attack the neighbouring cat’s reflection in the window. I had to show my cat where the real cat was and then the window reflection quite a few times and I didn’t think it got it either…cats never look like they are looking at anything in particular unless they’re hunting it. Eventually my cat kept an eye on the other cat in the reflection. It turned around when the mirror cat moved to give the evil eye to the real cat. It used the reflection to scope the other cat out.

    Cats have a fundamentally different concept of sight than humans. We have more colour cones than light rods. We see colour first and the thing or object first.
    Cats have more light rods than colour cones. They see movement first.

    Cats are also better at seeing long distance. They also have poor peripheral vision. In other words…a close-up image is a blur and image that they are not directly looking at centre vision is a blur and anything that reflects light into their eye narrows that central vision down even more.

    Kitteh attacks shiney objects (sort of like when people are annoyed with someone who reflects light of the surface of their watch into their eyes). Humans however like shiney objects…distorts movement but not colour. However it really stuffs up kittehs movement vision to the point of things being hallucinogenic.

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