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What is the mirror test and why is the test flawed?

The mirror test tries to establish the existence of self-awareness by determining whether an animal can recognize its own reflection in a mirror as an image of itself.

The word “sentience” is sometimes used instead of consciousness. Sentience refers to the ability to have for example positive and negative experiences. All sentient beings are conscious beings. Where there is sentience there must also be consciousness. This is because sentience, the ability to feel pleasure and pain, requires consciousness. Self-consciousness, a particular form of consciousness, is a broad term that is used for different forms of awareness regarding oneself and one’s experiences. The concept of the self depends on which meaning of self-consciousness we use. There are several defined ‘levels’, the sense of ownership or awareness, that for example when one moves a part of one’s body, it is one’s body that is being moved, is the one the mirror test is trying to proof.

The principal flaw is that the mirror test is based on an anthropocentric view point. The test is trying to proof something, which might be rather species specific, specific for us humans, something which might not be relevant in the life of another non-human species. Therefore it is likely that the test result is not a correct representation of the degree of intelligence. It is not really appropriate to pit one species against another, as each has evolved different skills or ways of thinking that provide them with an advantage in one test, but a disadvantage in another.