Empathy in chickens

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Empathy in chickens is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another chicken. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council's (BBSRC) Animal Welfare Initiative defines and recognizes that "...hens possess a fundamental capacity to empathise..."[1][2] These empathetic responses in animals are well documented and are usually discussed along with issues related to cognition. The difference between animal cognition and animal emotion is recognized by ethicists.[3] The specific emotional attribute of empathy in chickens has not been only investigated in terms of its existence but it has applications that have resulted in the designed reduction of stress in farm-raised poultry.[4]

Definition[edit]

Hamilton White hen with chickens

The difference between animal cognition and animal emotion is recognized by ethicists. Animal cognition covers all aspects related to the thought processes in animals. Though the topics related to cognition such as self-recognition, memory, other emotions and problem-solving have been investigated, the ability to share the emotional state of another has now been established in hens.[4][5][6][7]


Chickens have the basic foundations of emotional empathy.[8][9][10][11] Empathy is sometimes regarded as a form of emotional intelligence and is demonstrated when hens display signs of anxiety when they observed their chicks in distressful situations. The hens have been said to "feel their chicks' pain" and to "be affected by, and share, the emotional state of another."[2]

Scientific evidence[edit]

A study funded by the BBSRC and published in 2011[10] was the first to demonstrate that chickens possess empathy and the first study to use both behavioral and physiological methods to measure these traits in birds.[7] Chicks were exposed to a puff of air, which they find mildly distressing. During the exposure, their mother's behaviour and physiological responses were monitored non-invasively. The hens altered their behaviour by decreased preening, increased alertness, and an increased numbers of vocalisations directed to their chicks — behaviours interpreted as a demonstration of concern. Furthermore, the hens' heart rate increased and eye temperature decreased.[4][12]

Other emotions[edit]

Fear[edit]

Previous investigations established the indicators of an emotional response in chickens. Domestic chickens can be observed to have different states of alertness. Hens exhibit fear by increasing the time spent standing alert and increased preening. Before empathy in chickens was reported, other investigations demonstrated that hens avoid environments associated with higher preening rates and standing.[4]

Stress and empathy[edit]

Empathetic response by hens is preceded by the determination that hens recognize distress in their chicks. Assessing the distress of chicks and the effect of the presence of their mother has been investigated using an air puff treatment. Each treatment chick and control were exposed to puffs of airs applied to their eyes in the presence and absence of their mothers. The responses interpreted as distress in the chicks were:

  • reduced temperature of the eye of the chick
  • increased ground pecking
  • increased preening
  • increased standing (compared to normal rates of movement)[13]

The response of the hens to the apparent distress of their chicks differed to those not exhibiting distress. When distress was recognized by a hen, her heart rate increased. This is correlated to the degree of distress exhibited by the chicks. If the hen is present, distress associated behaviours are less in the chick. Demonstrating empathy by hens toward their chicks is accompanied by the reduction of distress in the chicks.[13]

Applications[edit]

The specific emotional attribute of empathy in chickens has not been only investigated in terms of its existence but it has applications that have resulted in the designed reduction of stress in farm-raised poultry.[4]

At one time, a Virginia prison was planned to be transformed into 'Chicken empathy museum' by PETA to raise awareness of the emotional, empathetic nature of chickens.[14][15][16][17]

Other opinions[edit]

The acceptance of empathy in chickens is not universal and others have found no evidence for emotional empathy in chickens.[18]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Chickens are capable of feeling empathy, scientists believe - Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. 9 Mar 2011. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
  2. ^ a b Witty, Julia (March 9, 2011). "Science Shots: the Birds and the Moths". Mother Jones Magazine. Retrieved 2015-07-17: This is a layman's description of the work of Edgar et al. 2011, "Avian maternal response..."
  3. ^ Wilson, Scott. "Animals and Ethics". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2015-12-30.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Foundations of empathy found in chicken". 5m Publishing; The Poultry Site. 10 March 2011. Retrieved 2015-12-30.
  5. ^ Proctor, Helen (2012). "Animal Sentience: Where Are We and Where Are We Heading?". Animals. 2 (4): 628–639. doi:10.3390/ani2040628. ISSN 2076-2615.
  6. ^ Wilson, Scott. "Animals and Ethics". Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 2015-12-30.
  7. ^ a b "Press release: The foundations of empathy are found in the chicken". University of Bristol. 9 March 2011.
  8. ^ Klinghoffer, Ilana (14 February 2015). "Could Chickens be Empathetic Creatures?". Science World British Columbia. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
  9. ^ Edgar, J.L.; Paul, E.S.; Nicol, C.J. (2013). "Protective mother hens: cognitive influences on the avian maternal response". Animal Behaviour. 86 (2): 223–229. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2013.05.004. ISSN 0003-3472.
  10. ^ a b Edgar, J. L.; Lowe, J. C.; Paul, E. S.; Nicol, C. J. (2011). "Avian maternal response to chick distress". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 278 (1721): 3129–3134. doi:10.1098/rspb.2010.2701. ISSN 0962-8452. PMC 3158930. PMID 21389025.
  11. ^ "Foundations of empathy in chickens? Avian maternal response to chick distress studied". Veterinary Sciences Tomorrow. 21 March 2011. Retrieved 2015-07-22.
  12. ^ Bekoff, Marc (9 March 2011). "Empathic chickens and cooperative elephants: Emotional intelligence expands its range again". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2015-12-28.
  13. ^ a b Edgar, Joanne; Held, Suzanne; Paul, Elizabeth; Pettersson, Isabelle; I'Anson Price, Robbie; Nicol, Christine (2015). "Social buffering in a bird". Animal Behaviour. 105: 11–19. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2015.04.007. ISSN 0003-3472.
  14. ^ "PETA wants to rent a Virginia prison building and turn it into a chicken empathy museum". LA Times. 15 September 2009. Retrieved 2015-06-19.
  15. ^ "The Nation's First Chicken Empathy Museum". NYTimes. 17 September 2009. Retrieved 30 December 2015.
  16. ^ "Animal-rights group wants to open "chicken empathy" museum". The Seattle Times. 9 September 2009. Retrieved 2015-12-31.
  17. ^ "PETA wants Jindal to turn bankrupt poultry plant into 'Chicken Empathy Museum'". NOLA.com. 12 March 2009. Retrieved 2015-12-31.
  18. ^ Edgar J.L., Paul, E.S., Harris, L., Penturn, S. & Nicol, C.J. (2012). "No evidence for emotional empathy in chickens observing familiar adult conspecifics". PLOS ONE. 7 (2): e31542. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031542. PMC 3278448. PMID 22348100.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link)

Further reading[edit]

  • Donald M. Broom & Andrew F. Fraser (2015). Domestic Animal Behaviour and Welfare (5th ed.). Oxford, OXF, GBR: CABI Publishers. pp. 42, 53, 188 (esp. 53). ISBN 1780645392. Retrieved 16 July 2015.CS1 maint: Uses authors parameter (link) [Only source found citing Edgar et al. 2012, and Edgar et al. 2011, see p. 53, and so the sole reliable secondary source found on this subject to date.]