Chickens are Self-Conscious Social Manipulators Who Learn from Each Other

Chickens are Self-Conscious Social Manipulators Who Learn from Each Other

Peer-Reviewed Scientific Article Concludes that Chickens Are Behaviorally, Cognitively and Emotionally Complex Individuals

New York, NY (January 3, 2017) – According to a new paper published today in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Animal Cognition, chickens, who are typically thought of as possessing a low level of intelligence compared with other animals, actually demonstrate self-control and self-assessment —capacities which may indicate self-awareness, and are behaviorally sophisticated, discriminating amongst individuals, and exhibiting Machiavellian-like social interactions.

The article, written by neuroscientist Dr. Lori Marino, reviews chickens’ full range of abilities by detailing dozens of studies to determine what we do and do not know about chickens. The areas examined in the article include cognition, emotion, self-awareness, personality, and social complexity.

With intriguing examples based on an extensive review of the scientific literature to date, Dr. Marino concludes that “Chickens are just as cognitively, emotionally and socially complex as most other birds and mammals in many areas.” For example, chickens:

  • Possess a number of visual and spatial capacities, arguably dependent upon mental representation, such as some aspects of Stage four object permanence, which is typically reached by the age of one in humans, and illusory contours (an optical illusion of perceiving contours like curves, etc.) in an object where none exist on a par with other birds and mammals;
  • Possess some understanding of numerosity and share some very basic arithmetic capacities with other animals;
  • Can demonstrate self-control and self-assessment —capacities which are indicative of self-awareness;
  • Communicate in complex ways, including through referential communication, which may depend upon some level of self-awareness and the ability to take the perspective of another animal;
  • Have the capacity to reason and make logical inferences. For example, chickens are capable of simple forms of transitive inference, a capability that humans develop at approximately the age of seven;
  • Perceive time intervals and appear able to anticipate future events;
  • Are behaviorally sophisticated, discriminating amongst individuals, exhibiting Machiavellian-like social interactions, and learning socially in complex ways that are similar to humans;
  • Have complex negative and positive emotions,  and  exhibit emotional contagion and evidence for a simple form of empathy;
  • Have distinct and complex personalities, just like all animals who are cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally complex individuals.

Dr. Marino explains that “We have shown that chickens share a number of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and even humans. There is good scientific evidence to suggest that there is a need for further non-invasive comparative behavioral research with chickens in natural settings, as well as a complete re-framing of current views about their intelligence and our overall relationship to them.”

Dr. Marino is the executive director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy and provided the scientific support for the lawsuits of the Nonhuman Rights Project regarding recognition of chimpanzees as “legal persons.” In the blockbuster documentary Blackfish, Dr. Marino explained the neural underpinnings of cetacean intelligence and why orcas and other cetaceans cannot thrive in marine parks and aquariums.

This is the third paper produced with grant money from Farm Sanctuary’s The Someone Project, an endeavor aimed at using scientific evidence to raise the public’s understanding of farm animal cognition and behavior. The first two papers focused on the cognitive and behavioral complexities of fish and pigs, respectively, and generated international attention.

A white paper based on this publication is also available here.

# # #