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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chickens may be birdbrained - but they can still 'feel' each other's pain


Pecking order: Female chickens have shown signs of anxiety when their young were in distress

You might think chickens are way down the pecking order in the animal kingdom when it comes to emotional intelligence.

But it turns out that mother hens are such attentive, caring parents that they ‘feel’ their chicks’ pain.

In experiments, female chickens showed clear signs of anxiety when their young were in distress. It is the first time scientists have discovered empathy in a bird.

The ability to feel someone’s pain or see their point of view was once thought to be uniquely human. But recent studies suggest animals may also experience empathy.
The tests on hens have important implications for the welfare of chickens in battery farms and science laboratories.

The British researchers chose hens and chicks because empathy is assumed to have evolved to help parents care for their young.

Jo Edgar, the PhD student at Bristol University who led the study, 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.

'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.’

The researchers tested the mother hens’ reactions when their chicks’ feathers were ruffled with a puff of air.

When the chicks were exposed to the gusts, they showed signs of distress that were mirrored by their mothers. The hens’ heart rates increased, they became increasingly alert and, in a recognised sign of stress, their eye temperature lowered.

Levels of preening were reduced and the mothers clucked at the chicks more, according to the findings reported online today by the Royal Society.

The researchers said chickens reared commercially regularly encounter other birds showing signs of pain and distress ‘owing to routine husbandry practices or because of the high prevalence of conditions such as bone fractures or leg disorders’.

source: dailymail


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