Having a sense of self is being able to be aware of one's self. When an animal grooms it self, it is aware of it self been groomed. This is also a gesture of love towards ones self and sometimes towards the ones that you love. For example: when one animal wants to prove to another its affection, most of the time, if it is a mammal or a bird, it shows this with a grooming gesture towards the other.
Sometimes when animals are passing through stressful situations in which there is no way out, they, in turn, start punishing themselves, for they bestow the anger of failure and frustration towards themselves. If it is a parrot, instead of grooming itself, it might start plucking its own feathers. If it is a dog, it might start chewing on its own fur or chasing after its own tail. These are usually signs of self punishments that can only be seen in beings with a well developed sense of self.
Some animal behaviorists try to find out which animals have a sense of self, by placing each animal in front of a mirror to find out if it can recognize its own mirror image. This test also involves a mark which is placed on the body or the forehead of the animal. If the animal sees itself in the mirror and understands that such image is itself, it will try to take the stain off while looking at the mirror. This will show if such a being is aware of itself since it has understood its own reflection.
Although this is not a good way of finding whether that animal has a sense of self, it is a good way to understand whether particular animals are intelligent enough in the area of understanding reflections.
As we shall learn, recognizing one's self in the mirror is the act of certain types of intelligent thinking processes, not self awareness.
It is very difficult for some animals to understand that their image could be someplace else, other than within themselves. Because of this, a lot of animals can not understand their mirror image.
Most animals have an imprint, a mental image of who they are. This makes it quite difficult when they get to meet their mirror image, for in their perspective, it is not them in the mirror, but some one else mimicking their actions, which, in turn, might cause some types of animals to become quite angry at their own reflections.
Some animals also seem to perceive reflections as having volume. Meaning that if the animal's self image is perceived by the mind as having volume, not just a flat unreal reflection, the animal's brain will not be able to understand it correctly; and it will view its own reflection as being another individual.
When adult chimpanzees are given mirrors, they take some time to understand that the image in the mirror is themselves. So because chimpanzees do not understand their reflections at first view, that does not mean that during the time in which they could not understand their reflections, they where not self aware and that right after understanding their mirror image, all of the sudden, they became self aware. Therefore, this event is only showing that they became aware, not of themselves, for they were already that, but of their own reflections.
So the abilities for chimpanzees, dolphins and other intelligent animals to understand their mirror image comes from their intelligence, not from their self awareness. This ability only means that some animals have the type of intelligence which can help them find out that their image can be some place else other than within themselves.
To understand yourself in the mirror you need intelligence in the area of unnatural phenomenon, but this is only relative to the animal that does not have the intelligence to recognize that particular event. In other ways, a mirror to some animals is like a magician's trick to an audience. An audience can not understand a magician's trick, for it is an action in the realm of unnatural behaviors which the audience's minds are not fit for understanding.
Unlike many other animals, because we humans have great communication skills, we can teach others about those unnatural behaviors and they, in turn, can be able to trick others with no knowledge of such information.
Although in today's societies we do not think much about the mirror, in the past, even ourselves have been fulled by it, for a lot of people throughout history have thought of the mirror as a magical object where a parallel universe existed, where they could meet themselves in. At other times, some people have thought of the mirror as a powerful object that could capture their souls, and, therefore, thought that who ever owned this magical object also owned their souls.
So when it comes to the mirror, we can not rely on it to prove our self awareness, for it is, indeed, a very strange and mysterious object, even for some of us to understand.
The Real Self Awareness:
Self awareness is proven by the many behavioral patterns which animals exhibit which suggest, without the shadow of a doubt, the possessions of certain mental stimuli; some of which are: status, pride, self esteem, territoriality, self punishment, self love, supremacy, and submission.
As an example lets take supremacy and submission: supremacy and submission are feelings which can not exist without self awareness, for if you are not aware of yourself, how can you be able to understand how great you are or how small you are.
Supremacy and submission are emotions which exists in fish, reptiles, mammals and birds. The reason why it exists in so many animals is because, along with territoriality, it is the most primitive of all feelings within self awareness.
It is my belief, that the sense of self awareness might have evolved as the by-product from some of the senses of self preservation, such as supremacy and territoriality. In other ways, when you evolve these adaptations, which are neurological, instinctive factors in the brain, what you get as the by-product of such, is the primitive self awareness which is present in fish as well as reptiles.
Self awareness is a very important adaptation, because it gives animals the ability to recognize their environment and themselves in order to avoid being hunted, create and defend their territorial grounds, groom themselves, protect themselves, and help themselves survive in many situations which require the love and the caring of one's self.
As an example, lets take territoriality: to own a piece of property you, most likely, will need to be aware of your self in order to understand the ownership of your property. If you where not self aware you would not have the need to own any property, for you will not be aware of your own needs.
For example: as a territorial animal, if you would put to words the feelings and thoughts that will come to your mind during a territorial dispute, you would say "Get off my territory!" you can not say "Get off the territory!" for you will be implying that the territory is not yours. You have to use an indication of self worth, which in this case would be the pronoun "my". Therefore, if you are a territorial animal which does not show much of any other signs of self awareness, you most likely will be self aware.
Some animal behaviorist would explain a territorial dispute with the phrase "back off!," but that would imply that the animal is uncomfortable with another and just wants to be left alone. So in this case, these two words would not apply within this behavioral action.
Another part to the sense of self is self esteem. This is what dictates the level of control that an animal has within its social group. For example: if a dog thinks of a person, lets say a woman, as her being his boss, and he has just done something wrong which has caused her to yell at him or hit him, the dog will most likely put his tail between his legs and lower his head, getting a hump between his shoulders, while perhaps giving out a high squeaky sound. This is a sign that his self esteem is low and has been temporarily damage by this action. He is ether ashamed of what he has done or thinks that he is not good enough to go against that person's willful actions.
In turn, if the dog has the impression that he is the matriarch or alpha male (the one in control), and that person would do the same behavioral action, the dog instead of being submissive, could now ether bark with a strong voice at that person or fight back and bite that person who hit him, to show his disapproval.
A behavior such as this, would be significantly affected by the type of relationship which individuals have with each other.
This body language that some animals have, is used as a means of establishing status within groups. The majority of animals who possess this behavior are pack animals, such as wolves, lions, homosapiens, chimpanzees, hyenas and others which are social animals that need each other in order to improve their survival.
Most of these animals also possess a strong emotional communication behavior. Animals who are social and have a strong emotional communication behavior, are able to be a stronger part of each other, which, in turn, ables them to significantly hunt better and fight together against any negative event which their natural environment might provide.
Following self esteem comes status, which is the position that an animal occupies within a group. Status gives the animal an idea of how big or small it is within its group. It is an awareness of that animal's self worth, relative to its social group. For example: if you could explain the behavioral patterns of status in a verbal manner, you would probably say it in one of these statements: "I am better than you, because of my position." "I am not as good as you, but I am better than him/her because of my position." or "I am not as good as any one else, so, therefore, I always have to beg because of my position."
Most of the time, status is influenced by ether one, or both of these factors: the level of will power and self esteem that an animal has, which causes it to fight or not to fight for a better position within a group; or by how that group feels about the individual claiming that status.
It is quite ridiculous to consider that because a human is a human and a dog is a dog or a cat is a cat, that the same behavioral patterns which they all share mean different things between them, for if this was the case, we humans would not be able to communicate with a dog or any other animal in the way that we do behaviorally, as well as emotionally.
Usually, same environment creates same adaptations; even if the species are different.
We also have to understand that about two percent of our genes are actually unique, and that most of our behavioral patterns comes from the fact that we are mammals, not from the fact that we are humans. If other animals were not related to us at all, then maybe, we could have enough evidence to prove differently, but in this planet, this is not the case.
Although pride is a feeling (mental stimulus), it is another part of the sense of self, because it concerns the importance of one's self. This stimulus gives animals a certain higher feeling of self worth which some animals use, to prove to their opposite sex that they are worthy of mating with, and it also helps individuals, such as matriarchs, behave in a manner that will show importance and higher status.
In the world of some bird species, pride is very important, for it helps male birds do their ritual dances with the finesse required to win the females. These ritual dances show the females the beauty, health, style and self expression which the males possess.
In some bird species, when the male appears too desperate and gets nervous, this feeling is expressed in his ritual dances, making the females loose interest and fly away. Such a behavior is probably due to the bird not thinking of himself as being good enough, for it has failed too many times before, and therefore, panic and desperation starts to show through the ritual.
In order for these male birds to win their females, they must perform their rituals without hesitation, which means that they must have an above average sense of pride stimulus to help them perform without getting desperate.
Birds that have manage to do their rituals right are able to breed and spread those proud qualities on to their species, while the birds that are not as proud, are most likely not to be able to do their rituals right and end up not breeding at all, making that species have a well developed pride stimulus.
Pride is a stimulus which evolved to stimulate all of the sociological senses of an organism towards performing their best. It is an adaptation made to do just that.
A Sense of Belonging:
An animal needs to be self aware in order for it to recognized another individual as a part of itself. Therefore, a sense of belonging is yet, another part of the sense of self awareness. This is what tells pack animals that they are a part of one particular group, and separate from other groups of the same species. For example: lions in Africa travel in groups, but each group has a sense of belonging, a sense of us, so when one group of lions meets a member of another group, lets say a female lion, and that lion asks for food, it could be hard for that lion to get food from that group, since that lion would not be considered a part of their group, and therefore, she might be considered an enemy.
This sense is also the reason why two groups of animals from the same species can be able to fight against each other. Such is the case with hyenas, lions, wild dogs, wolves, humans, chimpanzees, baboons and many other species.
By having this type of system, the group that works better can be able to succeed better, therefore, replacing the other groups with behavioral systems that might not work as good.
Taking into consideration the diversity caused by natural selection, it is quite possible that within different species of animals, there are also different or/and advanced senses of recognition which can make them see reality in different manners. Manners that our own perceptions can not understand.
Decision Making Processes:
These processes are a conjunction of thoughts, intelligence, instincts and feelings, which gives animals their mental freedom and helps them develop their personalities. Most of us who have pets, know that most animals have their own personalities and are always trying to do what they want, unless they are highly trained not to do so.
Decision making processes vary in their complexity depending on the intelligence of the animal, its environment, the skill or experience that it has at makings those decision, its social rank (if any), and a few other mental interactions and adaptations.
Decision making processes give animals an upper hand in deciding how to operate their escapes, how to operate their hunting strategies, where to rest better, when is best to play, how to protect their young, and so on. It also gives some intelligent animals the abilities of self expression.