Self-awareness not exclusive to humans

London, June 16 (IANS) If you think humans are the only animal capable of self-awareness, think again. A study strongly suggests that self-awareness is not unique to mankind and is instead likely to be common among animals.

The study found that humans and other animals capable of mentally simulating environments require at least a primitive sense of self.

“The study’s key insight is that those animals capable of simulating their future actions must be able to distinguish between their imagined actions and the actions that are actually experienced,” said co-author professor Thomas Hills from University of Warwick’s department of psychology.

The study appeared in the journal Current Zoology and the researchers were inspired by work conducted in the 1950s on maze navigation in rats.

It was found that rats in the maze took a pause to make decisions on what they would do next.

Recent neuroscience research found that at these ‘choice points’ rats activate regions of their hippocampus that simulates choices and their potential outcomes.

The team created different descriptive models to explain the process behind the rat’s deliberation.

One model, the Naive Model, assumed that animals inhibit action during simulation.

However, this model created false memories because the animal would be unable to differentiate between real and imagined actions.

A second, the Self-actuating Model, was able to solve this problem by ‘tagging’ real versus imagined experience. Hills and Butterfill called this tagging the ‘primal self’.

“As such, humans must not be the only animal capable of self-awareness. Indeed, the answer we are led to is that anything, even robots, that can adaptively imagine themselves doing what they have not yet done, must be able to separate the knower from the known.”

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