How Scientists Are Using Narcissistic Monkeys to Fight Alzheimer’s

Scientists hope that a new breakthrough with rhesus monkeys will help them better understand how to combat the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease. It was previously thought that rhesus monkeys weren’t capable of recognizing their reflections in a mirror the way that humans and apes can. A report in the journal of “Current Biology” suggest that’s not the case and lays out research done by the Chinese Academy of Sciences that taught the monkeys to recognize themselves in the mirror by annoying them with a laser pointer of all things.

“Our findings suggest that the monkey brain has the basic ‘hardware’ [for mirror self-recognition], but they need appropriate training to acquire the ‘software’ to achieve self-recognition,” says Neng Gong of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

They sat the monkeys in front of a mirror and shined a mildly irritating laser light on the monkeys’ faces. After 2 to 5 weeks of the training, those monkeys had learned to touch face areas marked by a spot they couldn’t feel in front of a mirror. They also noticed virtual face marks in mirroring video images on a screen. They had learned to pass the standard mark test for mirror self-recognition.
Most of the trained monkeys–five out of seven–showed typical mirror-induced self-directed behaviors, such as touching the mark on the face or ear and then looking and/or smelling at their fingers as if they were thinking something like, “Hey, what’s that there on my face?” Via Science Daily

Researchers had taught the rhesus monkeys to use mirrors as tools before and had found some success, but marking the monkeys faces to teach them to recognize their reflection proved unsuccessful. Learning that the monkeys can be taught to recognize their reflections is a breakthrough for the researchers, who hope the findings can be applied towards helping people with brainorders like autism, schizophrenia, or Alzheimer’s. By looking at the process that a monkey’s brain goes through while learning this skill, scientists may perhaps, be able to help people with these conditions learn it as well.

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