Intelligent Design Icon Intelligent Design
Neuroscience & Mind Icon Neuroscience & Mind

Researchers Ask — Serious Question — Do Crabs Have Emotions?

Denyse O'Leary
Photo credit: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons.

At one time, the question of whether crabs or squid had emotions would seem ridiculous. Dogs and cats have emotions but squid and crabs don’t. Right? But in recent decades, it has become evident that there is no straightforward evolutionary path to “smartness.” What about the ability to experience pain or emotion as a dog or cat would?

“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 molluscs are sentient,” says York University Professor and philosopher Kristin Andrews, the York Research Chair in Animal Minds, who is working with the LSE team.

Andrews co-wrote an article published today in the journal Science, “The question of animal emotions,” with Professor Frans de Waal, director of the Living Links Center at Emory University, which discusses the ethical and policy issues around animals being considered sentient. 

YORK UNIVERSITY, “DO OCTOPUSES, SQUID AND CRABS HAVE EMOTIONS?” AT SCIENCE DAILY (MARCH 24, 2022)

Unexpected Ethical Issues

The view that exothermic (coldblooded) and invertebrate animals might have feelings raises ethical issues, says Kristin Andrews, author of How to Study Animal Minds (Cambridge, 2020):

“If they can no longer be considered immune to felt pain, invertebrate experiences will need to become part of our species’ moral landscape,” she says. “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.”

YORK UNIVERSITY, “DO OCTOPUSES, SQUID AND CRABS HAVE EMOTIONS?” AT SCIENCE DAILY (MARCH 24, 2022)

But It Gets Complex

Researchers have been working on this question and the results are mixed. Some invertebrates, like octopuses show evidence of emotion and intelligence, roughly the same as lab rats. Others, like the octopus’s shelly distant cousin, the nautilus, just don’t check out that way.

Some researchers think that a shell reduces the need for intelligence so the octopus became more intelligent, relative to the nautilus, as a result of losing its shell. Others disagree. The problem is, they say, the octopus would need to increase in intelligence 275 million years ago, before losing its shell. Otherwise, it would simply have been eaten to extinction. But in that case, what was the driver for intelligence? In any event, shelly crabs and lobsters also show unexpected intelligence.

The practical question is, can the seafood industry continue to ignore the possibility that their catches feel pain? 

Read the rest at Mind Matters News, published by Discovery Institute’s Bradley Center for Natural and Artificial Intelligence.