You need to conceive of a symbolic act before you perform it? When someone dives in a river to rescue another, does he first have to conceive of some kind of symbolism?
I submit there is no self interest or benefit in some of these lab tests. It seems to be simple empathy, something that many species share. And it doesn't involve language or abstract cognitive processes.
I have never proposed assigning human or legal rights to non-human animals. I hold that that they only need one right, the right not to be property. Yes. I'm an abolitionist.
What I learned from just one year of college philosophy; the devil's in the details.