Diana Reiss

Professor of Psychology, Hunter College, CUNY

Diana Reiss

Title: “Mirror Self-Recognition: Reflections of Consciousness in Dolphins and Elephants”
Absract: Mirror self-recognition (MSR), the ability to understand an external representation of self, is one index of self-awareness. Once considered unique to humans, the capacity for MSR is rare in the animal world and been demonstrated only in a few other mammals – the great apes, dolphins and elephants and one avian species, the magpie. Dolphins and elephants, like humans and great apes, are large-brained highly social species that exhibit empathy towards others suggesting a sophisticated social awareness for the plight of others. When exposed to mirrors, both dolphins and elephants show striking similarities to humans and great apes in the stages of behavior they exhibit when learning the contingencies of mirror-use and when using a mirror as a tool to view themselves. The capacity of MSR in dolphins and elephants represents a striking case of cognitive convergence in species with profound differences in neuroanatomical characteristics and evolutionary history.

Bio: Dr. Diana Reiss is a cognitive psychologist, marine mammal scientist, and professor in the Department of Psychology at Hunter College, CUNY and the Animal Behavior and Comparative Psychology Doctoral program at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Dr. Reiss’s research focuses on dolphin cognition and communication, elephant cognition, comparative animal cognition, and the evolution of intelligence. She pioneered the use of underwater keyboards with dolphins to investigate their cognitive and communicative abilities and to provide them with more degrees of choice and control. Dr. Reiss and her colleagues demonstrated that bottlenose dolphins and an Asian elephants possess the rare ability for mirror self-recognition previously thought to be restricted to humans and great apes. She directs a dolphin research program at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, MD and conducts field studies on  communication and behavior in wild dolphins in Bimini and Belize. She is also a research associate at Smithsonian’s National Zoo. Her efforts also involve the rescue and rehabilitation of stranded marine mammals. Her advocacy work in conservation and animal welfare have focused on the protection of dolphins in the tuna-fishing industry and efforts to bring an end to the killing of dolphins in the drive hunts in Japan that were exposed in Oscar winning film The Cove. Dr. Reiss’s work has been featured in hundreds of articles in international and national journals, science magazines, television segments and features, and newspaper articles. Her recent book The Dolphin in the Mirror was released in the fall 2011.

Animal Consciousness: Evidence and Implications

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