Not only do octopuses have eight arms, but they also have nine brains. To go along with all that gray matter, the researchers were curious if these intelligent creatures and other invertebrates had emotions.
Whether octopuses, squids, and crabs are sentient beings is the subject of ongoing research into animal emotions. The UK is considering changing animal rights legislation to recognize that these invertebrates can experience pain.
Kristin Andrews, a philosophy professor at York University in Toronto, is involved in ongoing research on the subject. She recently co-authored an article published in the journal Science on “The Question of Animal Emotions”.
“The philosophical problem of other minds is a problem we don’t really solve, but we decide how to deal with. We believe that at this point the best way to deal with the issue of other minds when it comes to other animals is to embrace the feelings and emotions of animals,” Andrews told Treehugger.
Andrews points out that there is a lot of research on animal emotions. At first, these studies focused primarily on monkeys and chimpanzees, but studies began to focus on other animals.
“Some of this work involves familiar mammals, such as dogs which are in many cases family members with clear emotional needs. But other research examines feelings in animals we’re less likely to have a friendly relationship with, such as insects, fish, crabs, worms and octopuses.
With all this research, Andrews says it’s time to change perceptions and accept that animals, including bees, worms and octopuses, have emotions.
“That’s not to say that humans and octopuses share the same emotions — octopus emotion can be as different from human emotion as octopus locomotion is different from human locomotion,” she says. “But only after accepting that octopuses and other animals have emotions can we begin to uncover the types of emotions they have.”
Animal emotions and the law
Animal sentience is the ability of animals to experience feelings such as pain, pleasure, joy, and fear. Sensitivity is key in animal welfare legislation in countries like Europe, the UK, Canada and Australia.
Quebec’s Animal Welfare and Safety Act, for example, recognizes that “animals are sentient beings with biological needs” and protects animal care and safety.
“However, the definitions of ‘animal’ differ,” says Andrews. “Often ‘animal’ refers to ‘non-human vertebrate.’ This definition excludes huge members of the animal tree, including octopuses, crabs, and insects. In the United States, rats and mice are also not considered animals and are not covered by the Animal Welfare Act.
Currently in the UK, the Animal Welfare (Sentiment) Bill is undergoing third reading in the House of Commons. If adopted, it would recognize that decapod crustaceans and cephalopod molluscs deserve protection. Boiling them alive would be prohibited.
Decapod crustaceans include shrimp, lobsters, crayfish, and hermit crabs. Cephalopod molluscs include octopus, squid, and cuttlefish.
Sensitivity, morality and ethics
Andrews is working on a research project called Animals and Moral Practice. She says much of the research in the field has focused on the painful emotions, stress and suffering from childhood trauma when animals are separated from their mothers. Much less is known about the positive emotions of happiness and joy, although work with laughing rats has suggested that animal joy is an area worth exploring.
When society recognizes animal sentience, Andrews suggests, it creates a moral and ethical dilemma. Unlike humans, animals cannot describe what they feel.
“By recognizing that animals have emotions, we accept that animals may feel things that matter to them. A mother cow may not want to be separated from her calf, and she may suffer more because she cannot seek “A rat that’s caught in a tube feels stressed, and that could stress other rats in the environment as well,” Andrews says.
“Animals with feelings that matter to them create moral obligations for humans, because to be good people we need to think about the interests of others. We try not to make things worse for others, and often we try to make things better for them. Moral struggles abound where there are conflicts of interest, as there often are between humans and other animals. We do not offer a solution to these conflicts, but illuminate them and suggest that the best answers will come when scientists and philosophers work together.