Self-awareness, Empathy and Evolution

Self-awareness and empathy: Watching you watching me By Michael J. Formica, MS, MA, EdM…


Self-awareness in humans is an important developmental milestone. It is the point at which an individual, usually at about age 2, develops the ability to identify him/herself objectively. Studies have shown that certain other mammals – chimpanzees, gorillas, bottle-nosed dolphins, and elephants – also have the capacity for self-awareness.


A study recently published by Helmut Prior and his associates of the Institute of Psychology at Goethe University in Frankfurt has demonstrated that magpies also demonstrate this capacity. This has important implications for evolutionary theory, as mammalian and avian brains are completely different and have developed along different evolutionary lines; it would appear that the capacity for self-awareness has developed twice.