(Photo by Pixabay from Pexels)

TORONTO — Prepare to feel especially guilty the next time you order seafood. Researchers from York University argue that octopuses, crabs, lobsters, crayfish, and other invertebrates are indeed sentient and can feel pain, anger, fear, and happiness. The vast majority of countries do not recognize invertebrates as sentient, but the United Kingdom is already mulling changes to its animal welfare legislation that would change this.

Previous studies have shown that octopuses are very smart and socially sharp creatures. They’re even capable of completing puzzles that would give some humans pause and can recognize other organisms they’ve interacted with before. If universally agreed upon, the conclusion that invertebrates feel emotions will almost certainly hold moral implications for millions as they sit down and decide what to eat.

“A London School of Economics (LSE) report commissioned by the U.K. government found there is strong enough evidence to conclude that decapod crustaceans and cephalopod mollusks are sentient,” says study co-author and philosopher Kristin Andrews, the York Research Chair in Animal Minds, in a university release.

Professor Andrews, in collaboration with Professor Frans de Waal, director of the Living Links Center at Emory University, authored this latest report on the subject of emotions and animals. The report discusses both the ethical and policy considerations that would arise if the world considered these animals sentient.

The study emphasizes that up until now, Western culture has largely proclaimed that other animals don’t feel emotions or pain.

“It’s been a real struggle even to get fish and mammals recognized under welfare law as sentient. So, it’s pretty cutting-edge what seems to be happening in the U.K. with invertebrates,” Prof. Andrews notes.

Animals avoid pain just like people

It may seem hard to believe now, but up until the 1980s there were some who theorized that “pre-verbal human babies” did not feel pain. Even today, countless people believe most animals, including invertebrates, don’t experience pain and merely react unconsciously to negative stimuli.

These beliefs may be prevalent and ingrained in some cultures, but researchers say they aren’t grounded in science. Research over the past few decades on mammals, fish, octopuses, and crabs have all produced the same results: Animals avoid pain and dangerous situations to the best of their abilities in any given situation. Some animals, such as cows, even display signs of empathy. A mother cow will often become distressed if her calf is in pain or some kind of trouble.

The team suggests that Western culture has been slow to accept the sentience of invertebrates due to all of the ethical and moral questions it raises. Life is certainly simpler when someone can order crab cakes or calamari at a restaurant without feeling guilty. It may be an uncomfortable truth, but the study authors say animals really do feel emotions and pain just like humans. They just aren’t as well equipped to vocalize or describe those feelings.

“When we’re going about our normal lives, we try not to do harm to other beings. So, it’s really about retraining the way we see the world. How exactly to treat other animals remains an open research question,” Prof. Andrews explains. “We don’t have sufficient science right now to know exactly what the proper treatment of certain species should be. To determine that, we need greater co-operation between scientists and ethicists.”

Will seafood become part of ‘our species’ moral landscape’?

In conclusion, Prof. Andrews believes a day will soon come when humanity can no longer tell itself crayfish, shrimp, and other invertebrates are emotionless and invulnerable to pain.

“If they can no longer be considered immune to felt pain, invertebrate experiences will need to become part of our species’ moral landscape,” she concludes. “But pain is just one morally relevant emotion. Invertebrates such as octopuses may experience other emotions such as curiosity in exploration, affection for individuals, or excitement in anticipation of a future reward.”

The study is published in the journal Science.

About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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  1. Bacca Buc says:

    They would eat you ,without pause.

  2. Ralph Noyes says:

    All living things are sentient. Even the cockroaches that infest my eating/computer area. They’re pretty competent at avoiding death at my hands.

    Deep down, don’t we all know this — that any living creature feels pain, etc?

    I’ve shied away from red meat, drifted toward poultry, seafood, even tofu. Yes, I suppose even soybeans suffer when they’re harvested, smushed, desiccated, cooked.

    But haven’t we made a decision that, ultimately, we’re entitled to eat them, just as they’re entitled to eat one another? Isn’t it a matter of survival, of the lesser evil? Is it immoral for tigers to eat cattle — and humans?

    We’ve made a decision. — accept the lesser of evils. Let’s live with it. I love seafood.

    1. Vendicar Decarian says:

      TVP makes a pretty good substitute for beef. Granulated, it has s similar texture, although doesn’t have any myoglobin obviously so doesn’t have the same flavor where it is significant, and doesn’t bind and congel when cooked.

      Works well in soup, stews, meatloaf (50/50) with hamburger, and is perfect in chili and satisfies protein requirements and cravings.

      It also has a much better environmental footprint.

  3. George. says:

    Makes me hungry for Sushi!

  4. Rob Clary says:

    Ss, animals have emotions? And? Their “emotions” don’t prevent these creatures from eating each other, so LET’S EAT! Here is the truth: for us to live, living things must die. That is just nature. We kill and eat living things, or we die! Plants, animals – whatever. People need to stop pretending to be angels when we’re all just feeders and breeders.

  5. CLB66 says:

    “Pain,” and the “pain response,” are vital operating functions for all animals. It is the “program” which tells that living thing to avoid situations which could result in death or severe injury. Even bacteria (at a much simpler level) move away from injurious conditions and towards friendlier situations.

    Pain is not “moral” or “spiritual” or even “intellectual.” It is simply the combination of (a) a detection mechanism identifying damsge (or imminent damage) and a programmed response saying “stop the damage from occurring.”

    The ability to ignore pain, or to bear it and keep going… THAT is “moral” or “spiritual” or perhaps just “intellectual.” Experiencing pain? Not do much.

    And “feeling emotions?” We humans struggle to understand the emotions of other humans. Hell, we struggle to understand our OWN emotions sometimes. So, I question how these “researchers” can claim to understand the “emotions” of things do far removed from us.

    I suspect that they are falsely conflating “basic functional programming” with “emotional responses.” If a lobster experiences brief pain, and responds physically to that pain, when dropped into a boiling pot… this is not an “emotional response.”

    Simple life forms, like lobsters, certainly experience pain, and instinctively respond to pain, but do not experience EMOTIONS as we think of them… at all.

    Slughtly higher life forms, like chickens, have slightly more advanced brains, and can experience very rudimentary emotions… anger, jealosy, etc. But they obviously cannot “think” or reason or understand, so their emotions are far, far less significant than human emotions.

    Higher animals… say, horses, cows, dogs,
    cats and so on… have more advanced brains, greater cognitive capabilities, and emotions closer to our own.

    And certain very high animals… elephants, dolphins, chimpanzees, etc… approach our own cognitive levels, and have emotions almost identical to our own as well.

    I personally think that the closer an animal is to our own level, the more retiscent we should be about eating it. And those we do, we should treat as respectfully and kindly as we can in the process… minimizing suffering, both physical and, yes, psychological.

    But we should not pretend that the nature of life is NOT to eat other life. We are omnivores… we eat both plant and animal life to perpetuate our own life. We need to eat both. Vegetarian or “vegan” diets are unhealthy and unnatural for humans. Without artificial supplements, people become ill from subsisting on such a diet.

    We are not apart from nature. We’re part of it… just like wolves, sharks, and so forth. And predation is part of our nature.

  6. Donna says:

    So since pretty much everything we et has a brain and feels pain we better not eat it! Are you sure vegetables dont feel pain? Science better check that out! What will they waste money studying next?

  7. John McElroy says:

    Who says science is an objective search for truth? The new scientific method is to wet one’s finger, stick it in the air and see which way the woke wind blows.