The replicated typo blog has two great posts summarizing the current state of animal cognition research. You might remember that I blogged about this from a personal, and also a more “philosophical” point of view… using the possibility that animals have similar feelings to us to argue for vegetarianism.
The broad brush is that animals pass most of the tests that humans do:
“1. Mirror self-recognition
2. Tests of metacognition;
3. Metacognition of others’ mental states”
Mirror self-recognition is the realisation that the animal in the mirror is really you. This test has now been passed by a wide range of species: “including the great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, gorillas), but also elephants, dolphins and magpies (Blackmore 2010: 210-214)”. Humans pass this around age 3.
Metacognition means having an understanding of your own thought process. The standard lab-test would be whether you know that you know something, tested by a reward system for getting a question right, or a lesser reward declining to answer. Many higher primates seem to pass this test.
The final test is the understanding that others may or may not know something. On this the results are ambiguous. Chimpanzees definitely know whether another chimp may know something, e.g. you can only steal some food if the head honcho doesn’t know about it. But they only partially pass other tests, and perform worse than humans.
So basically, “animals other than humans are conscious and have subjective experiences that rely on some degree of consciousness” (Burkhard & Bekoff 2009: 42).
(All quotes and references are taken from the replicated typo blog and you should go there for the full story).