Diana Reiss studies animal cognition, and has found that bottlenose dolphins (and Asian elephants) can recognize themselves in the mirror.

Why you should listen

Diana Reiss’s research focuses on the cognition and communication of marine animals, with an emphasis on comparative animal cognition. Essentially, she studies the evolution of intelligence. Reiss pioneered the use of underwater keyboards with dolphins to investigate their communicative abilities and provide them with more degrees of choice and control. Reiss and her colleagues demonstrated that bottlenose dolphins and an Asian elephants possess the rare ability for mirror self-recognition previously thought to be restricted to humans and great apes. She wrote about this work in her recent book, The Dolphin in the Mirror.

Reiss' efforts also involve the rescue and rehabilitation of stranded marine mammals, including the successful rescue of Humphrey, the humpback whale, from San Francisco Bay waters. Her advocacy work in conservation and animal welfare includes the protection of dolphins in the tuna-fishing industry and efforts to bring an end to the killing of dolphins in the drive hunts in Japan. 

Reiss is a cognitive psychologist and professor in the Department of Psychology at Hunter College and the Biopsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience subprogram at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She directs a dolphin cognitive research program at the National Aquarium in Baltimore and is a research associate at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in DC, where she investigates elephant cognition.

What others say

“As I study dolphins, they reveal more about the nature of their intelligence. These remarkable mammals share with us many abilities we once thought were uniquely human.” —

Diana Reiss’ TED talk

More news and ideas from Diana Reiss


10 animals who’ve ruled the internet

July 10, 2013

“I make noises for a living, and on a good day it’s music,” says Peter Gabriel in today’s talk. “I work with a lot of musicians from around the world. Often, we don’t have any common language at all. But we sit behind our instruments and suddenly there’s a way to connect and emote.” This […]

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