crab

(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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52 Comments

  1. Benji says:

    You have got to be kidding!

    1. Vendicar Decarian says:

      All Animals have emotions and feel pain.

      Are you from a planet without primary schooling?

      1. Perceiver says:

        So do all animals. This is Just more Vegetarian propaganda. In life things die so that other things live. Now people could take stem cells of animals to produce meat, But according to the makers it’s expensive. It’s the circle of life.

    2. Brandon says:

      The left really just needs to sit down and shut up at this point.

    3. REALLY? says:

      Animals eat other animals.
      We are animals.

  2. Jim Higgins says:

    Genesis 9:3
    English Standard Version

    3 Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.

    I will still enjoy clams, shrimp, crawfish, lobsters, etc.

    1. Vendicar Decarian says:

      Your God is a childish fantasy, invented thousands of years ago by people who didn’t bathe and thought that drinking goat urine cured disease.

      1. CLB66 says:

        Your post is an example of your own childish fantasy, in which you are “superior.”

        You’re not.

        And atheism… YOUR religion… is not “new” with other religions being “old.” No, there have been atheists all along. Including back when “people didn’t bathe and drank goat urine,” as you say.

        Your fantasy of being “more evolved” is just a reflection of your own sociopathic desire to be “the highest authority in the world,” with no source of truth or morality beyond “what I want.”

  3. Freeland-Dave says:

    All animals feel pain. I’ve even been told that plants do as well, even though I’ve never seen it. Guess the only options we have is just starve.

    1. Vendicar Decarian says:

      If animals didn’t feel pain they would have no reason to avoid danger and injury.

      All higher ordered animals are driven by emotion. They have no other motivation since they have or their drive has evolved from a state where there was no higher order brain function.

  4. John says:

    Now do babies in the womb.

    1. Vendicar Decarian says:

      There are no babies in wombs.

      Whatever motivations they have are unformed and non-experienced since all of their needs are met.

      They operate at the level of a mollusk, so aborting them is no different than destroying a mollusk.

      Both should be avoided, but in many instances, it is the most ethical thing to do.

      1. John "Ratty" Arbuckle says:

        Thanks for revealing your inhumanity.

  5. Common Sense says:

    All animals can feel pain and so on. Whoever wrote this should practice suicide! Your parents failed you!

  6. Richard says:

    Anyone who cares about this needs a life.

    1. Vendicar Decarian says:

      Anyone who doesn’t care about this needs to be whipped, and isolated from society and nature.

  7. Critical Mass says:

    More dangling keys to keep you occupied while those in power continue to rob and plunder your rights.

    1. Vendicar Decarian says:

      I am quite capable of dealing with multiple issues at the same time.

      Are you saying that American’s don’t have the capacity?

      Yes you are.

  8. Glenn Richmond says:

    Love animals don’t eat them.
    Pro Life.
    Oppose capital punishment.
    End war.
    No animal studies.
    No assisted suicide.
    Smile, don’t worry, be happy.

  9. dammitt says:

    In the sea, no one can hear them scream.

    1. Vendicar Decarian says:

      In the sea, no one brings you ice cream.

      1. Don says:

        I guess you’ve never been on a cruise ship

      2. Vendicar Decarian says:

        That is on the sea.

  10. Brant says:

    I think they will taste just as good no matter what they are classified as.

  11. Richard says:

    The intro to Solient Green

  12. Katz Ajamas says:

    A computer can be programmed to “avoid ‘pain'”.

    Animals eat animals.
    Animals eat plants.
    It’s the way of the world.
    Some plants eat other plants, alive!

    Are we morally obligated to save the cockroach from the chicken?
    Do we starve one mollusk to save another? Or do we condition it with pain to consume tofu? Wait, there’ a plant being eaten there. Well at least, it’s potential offspring? Does that see din the pod feel pain?

    Come on people! Think!

    Suppose you’re as hungry as the Donners or an Uruguayan rugby team!

    Me? I could eat some horse, dog, cat, earthworm, cuttlefish, octopus, whale….wait, I have!

    1. Vendicar Decarian says:

      People kill people. It’s the way of the world.

      Moral, thinking people aspire to be better.

  13. Zachary Champoux says:

    This is an excellent article about an important subject. Humans needlessly kill billions of land animals and trillions of sea animals every year because they enjoy the taste of their flesh. Those who suggest this is a useless article exemplify the idea that humans are intellectually evolved and morally bankrupt. I’m shocked that a readership who should be well educated will so readily dismiss the suffering of nonhuman animals because it implies they are acting immorally.

    “The roots of cruelty are not strong, just widespread. But a time will come when inhumanity protected by custom, will succumb to humanity championed by thought. A man is ethical only and only when all life is sacred to him.”
    – Albert Schweitzer, Winner of Nobel Peace Prize

    1. Nancy says:

      Well said Zachary, and thank you for saying it. Education often targets the head and can take a long time to reach the heart.

  14. John "Ratty" Arbuckle says:

    It’s important to recognize these animals do feel pain. And so do preborn babies.

    1. Vendicar Decarian says:

      It is probable that a fetus feels pain at some point in it’s development. This makes it important to dispatch each aborted fetus as painlessly as possible.

      1. John "Ratty" Arbuckle says:

        I don’t think you get the point, Vendicar.

  15. Frank says:

    So now we need to feel for underwater buddies…we need to feel for all animals….not sure if this has not gotten out but…we eat everything…this is how we survive….sorry ..tasty….

    1. Vendicar Decarian says:

      So, you lack a moral center.

      Sick.

  16. Vendicar Decarian says:

    Please kill yourself. You are a worthless person.

    1. Jb says:

      You are a moron and should be flayed and burned.

      1. Vendicar Decarian says:

        Yes, in America I am a “moron” for knowing things and labeled as such by people who know less than nothing.

        People like JB.

      2. Erich Soldat says:

        you obviously did not get the guy’s humor… you are a sad case, You think you know stuff but your post about abortion goes to show how little is in your brain and how there is nothing in your heart too

  17. Nrisben McNichols says:

    Let’s see: Do mountain lions and wolves care if their victims (dinner) fell pain? Don’t think so.

    1. Vendicar Decarian says:

      Mountain lions have no alternatives, and insufficient cognitive ability to develop morality.

      You do have alternatives, but perhaps don’t have sufficient cognitive ability.

  18. Gene Gold says:

    Why are these scientific dolts more concerned with the feeling and pain of crabs, lobsters, fish and even insects, and not the pain that a baby feels during an abortion. Seems that their priorities and their heads are really “screwed” up. Follow the science??? Yeh right.

    1. Vendicar Decarian says:

      Bioethicists have produce operational guidelines so that when a fetus is aborted, it feels as little pain as possible.

      Abortion is often the most ethical choice a woman can make.

      If you had any morality or intelligence you would realize that fact.

  19. BillSmith says:

    Spanner Crabs get cooked in 18 minutes in boiling water. Their screams of pain are
    excruciating to hear. In Hong Kong markets one sees live fish sliced in half exposing the organs. People there want fresh food.

  20. Bill Kaniels says:

    It takes 18 minutes to cook crabs in boiling water. Their screams are heart rending.
    You see fish in Hong Kong markets sliced in half showing organs still funcioning.