It’s the Year of the Rooster in More Ways than One!

In case you haven’t been reading your Chinese placemats lately, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. And we are kicking the year off with a new peer-reviewed paper in the prestigious journal Animal Cognition, entitled “Thinking Chickens: A Review of Cognition, Emotion and Behavior in the Domestic Chicken,” authored by Dr. Lori Marino.

Dr. Marino, Executive Director of the Kimmela Center and Lead Scientist for The Someone Project, reviewed dozens of peer-reviewed studies of cognition, emotion, personality and social behavior of domestic chickens. And while chickens are generally considered low birds on the totem pole when it comes to our appreciation of their intelligence, the scientific evidence leads to the very different conclusion that they are more intelligent, complex and sensitive than most people give them credit for.

Marino concludes that “Chickens are just as cognitively, emotionally and socially complex as most other birds and mammals in many areas.” For example, chickens:

  • Demonstrate self-control and self-assessment, capacities that indicate self-awareness;
  • Communicate in complex ways, including through referential communication, which may depend upon their ability to take the perspective of another animal;
  • Can reason and make logical inferences. For example, chickens are capable of simple forms of logic that humans don’t develop until about age seven;
  • Appear able to anticipate future events;
  • Are behaviorally sophisticated, discriminating amongst individuals, engaging in clever social strategies and learning from other chickens;
  • Have complex negative and positive emotions, and exhibit emotional contagion and simple empathy;
  • Have distinct personalities.

Dr. Marino concludes 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 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.”

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.

Some Special Folks from the Someone Project

The Kimmela Center has just finished the first stage of our work for the Someone Project, a joint project with Farm Sanctuary that will be used to increase awareness about the complex minds and lives of farmed animals and influence farm animal policy for the benefit of the animals themselves.

In this first stage, we’ve been compiling the scientific evidence for cognitive, emotional and social complexity in pigs and chickens. The next stage will involve doing the same for other factory farmed animals such as cows and goats.

A great deal of work has gone into gathering all this evidence, and much of it has been done by the all-volunteer team of scholar-advocates who are invaluable members of the project:

christina-colvin-063013Christina M. Colvin: Tina will graduate with a PhD in English from Emory University in May 2014. She specializes in 20th and 21st century American literature and animal studies, with a particular interest in texts depicting ecological crises and odd encounters between humans and animals.

Her most recent writing and professional presentations have focused on William Faulkner’s critique of speciesism, the permutations of taxidermy as a cultural signifier, as well as the vexed relationship between animal welfare and the rhetoric of sustainability.

Christina aims for her academic and public scholarship to spark renewed interest in animals in both literary studies and the world.

<KENOX S860  / Samsung S860>Heather Harrison: Heather is attending Antioch University of New England for a Masters in Environmental Studies with a concentration in advocacy, and recently completed an internship with the Humane Society of the United States’ Farm Animal Protection Campaign. Through her work with the Someone Project, she hopes to enrich her knowledge of farm animal intelligence in order to effectively increase public awareness.

Heather is currently working as the education intern at Farm Sanctuary’s Animal Acres shelter in California.

Beth-snead-063013Beth Snead: Beth is the assistant acquisitions editor at the University of Georgia Press. She graduated from UGA in 2007 with a BA in English and has been working in the field of scholarly publishing ever since. She is currently exploring the possibility of implementing an animal studies series at the UGA Press.

Beth is a strong advocate for animal rights and is particularly concerned about the plight of laboratory animals and factory farmed animals in the U.S. She is thrilled to be assisting Farm Sanctuary with the “Someone” project.

julia-tsai-063013Julia Tsai: Julia is an undergraduate at Stanford. She entered college intending to major in Biology as a pre-vet, but after living on an organic farm, became increasingly interested in the social and environmental issues surrounding our food system and society’s perception of food.

Now, her focus has turned to our production of animals for food. The Someone Project’s goal to use scientific material to influence the policies surrounding the treatment of farm animals is such a novel approach to advocate for a change in the way we view animals and use them for our benefit.

Julia is still thinking of attending vet school in the future, but her goals have become more nuanced, shifting from learning how to treat animals in a medical setting to how to understand and treat them psychologically and educate others about them.

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Scholar-advocacy, the basis of Kimmela’s approach, focuses on applying scholarship, science and expertise to animal advocacy issues, and these talented and accomplished volunteers exemplify this model perfectly.

Many thanks to all of them as we move on to the next stage of the project.