Chickens show empathy: Official
Chilling chick torture experiment proves hens hurt too
A crack team from the University of Bristol has demonstrated that chickens show empathy – or at least hens do when their chicks are being tortured with puffed air.
The researchers suggest that empathy "most probably evolved to facilitate parental care", so they decided to see whether mother hens "responded to an aversive stimulus directed at their chicks".
That adverse stimulus involved delivering "air puff to chicks", a treatment chillingly abbreviated to "APC". The mums' reaction was "increased heart rate and maternal vocalisation" which happened "exclusively during the APC treatment, even though chicks produced few distress vocalisations".
The scientists conclude: "The pronounced and specific reaction observed indicates that adult female birds possess at least one of the essential underpinning attributes of empathy."
Team member Jo Edgar, of Bristol Uni's School of Veterinary Sciences, said: "The extent to which animals are affected by the distress of others is of high relevance to the welfare of farm and laboratory animals. Our research has addressed the fundamental question of whether birds have the capacity to show empathic responses.
"We found that adult female birds possess at least one of the essential underpinning attributes of 'empathy', the ability to be affected by, and share, the emotional state of another."
Quite how the findings impact on the UK's chicken breeding industry remains to be seen, but since the research was funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Research Council's Animal Welfare Initiative, we suspect a ban on subjecting chickens to APC is pretty much a certainty.
The abstract* of Avian maternal response to chick distress can be found down at the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. You'll need to pay for the full-fat, finger-lickin' good version. ®
* One of the paper's authors is listed as CJ Nicol. We assume this is the same Christine Nicol who previously had a hand in proving that cows bear grudges.
The weirdest thing I have seen chickens do was after we had to dispatch one due to her being severely egg bound. (In case anyone here is pro chicken welfare, our chickens live like kings (or should that be queens?) and this one was gently shuffled off by a vet). Upon presenting the rest of the flock with their fallen comrade the whole flock went quiet and crowded round to see. A few of them made gentle pecks and soft trilling noises, but the one who stayed longest was the hen we bought at the same time (was also the same breed). The event only lasted a few minutes before it was business as usual, but it was totally unexpected. There was certainly the appearance of basic empathy or at least concerned curiosity... or maybe they were just trying to work out if they could eat it..
Yes... I'm scientifically minded, and a vegetarian largely due to my objection to the treatment of animals raised for food, plus my wife has a degree in biology with an emphasis on animal behaviour, and as such your elaboration was rather surplus to requirements.
Since you're going all serious, however:
It doesn't really matter how many studies like this there are; people are determined to believe that animals don't suffer for their dinner, when in fact they do, and this won't change that. The bottom line is most people don't want to believe anything that will come between them and their McSandwich. Ignorance is bliss, and all that.
Who knows, I'd like to be wrong about this, maybe this research will contribute in some way to improving the lives of battery chickens, we can hope. But on the whole I still think that the joke I quoted was relevant.
Prof. F. Boyle was spot on...
Scientist 1: Shall we have a go at curing cancer?
Scientist 2: No, I'm going to see how many Fruit Pastiles it takes to choke a kestral.