Study: Hens react with emotion when chicks are in discomfort

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I found a very interesting article in, reporting on a study conducted on hens at England’s University of Bristol. It seems the mother hens reacted in a rather extreme way if they felt their chicks were in distress.

It is believed the hens are showing empathy. The hens were separated from the chicks during the experiments but were in close proximity. When puffs of air were directed at the chicks, the hens “responded more intensely with a stress response equivalent to fight-or-flight behavior,” according to the article.

This happened even though the chicks were not uttering distress calls, leaving researchers to rule out a typical “protective-mom response.” The hens reacted with a far lesser response when the air was directed at them.

I believe this is another important finding that not only shows animals experience empathy – along with other emotions – but also indicates self-awareness and state of consciousness. And the study is important because it expands the study of emotion beyond mammals, where we typically see studies of this order conducted.

And this certainly serves as more evidence for banning the practice of battery cages on factory farms or other practices that put the chickens in distress.

I also like it that Bristol researcher Joanne Edgar was quoted as saying – “It’s very fascinating to find out about the emotional lives of animals, but also it’s highly relevant for animal welfare.”

Studies on animals with a direct concern for welfare – we need more of this.