Sometime between 15 and 24 months, children take a large step in self-awareness. In an experiment known as the “rouge test,” mothers wiped a bit of rouge on the noses of their children and placed them in front of a mirror. Before 15 months, children look at their reflection and see a red spot on their nose in the mirror, but they don’t realize it is on their own nose. When children are between 15 and 24 months, they begin to realize that the reflection they see is their own, and they either point to the red nose or try to wipe away the rouge. In other words, they understand that the reflection in the mirror is more than a familiar face–it is their own face. At this time, children are learning that they are different from other people and becoming more aware that others may have beliefs, desires, and feelings that differ from their own. Research has shown that once young children reach this level of self-awareness, new emotions like embarrassment, envy, and empathy emerge.
Lewis, M., & Brooks-Gunn, J. (1979). Social cognition and the acquisition of self. New York: Plenum Press