No Brain, No Pain?

Lobsters, Crabs Feel Pain, Scientists Say

Frankly, I thought it was already known/obvious that crustaceans can feel pain. However, it appears that I was wrong and it needed scientific support. I had heard of people cooking lobsters alive in boiling water and found it very inhumane and shocking. Even if it is not 100% certain that lobsters can feel pain, why not just be sure and kill it beforehand?  Scientists in this article conducted studies to ascertain whether crustaceans feel pain, and SURPRISE our shelled friends have feelings too. These studies are important for animal welfare laws and proper animal care. The difficult part about determining whether wild animals can feel pain is that they cannot talk and because in nature if animals show weakness they are usually eaten. The experiments mentioned in this article showed that crabs changed their behavioral patterns because they learned a certain hideout was associated with electrical shock or pain. The study also demonstrated that even though crustaceans have a less extensive nervous system than humans, they are very capable of feeling pain and take active measures to avoid it.

English: Stone crabs in cooler

English: Stone crabs in cooler (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I delved a little deeper to find an article that supported the original theory that crustaceans don’t feel pain and found this: Hot Debate: Do Lobsters Feel Pain. While the article is slightly biased towards supporting the theory that lobsters do not feel any pain, they still categorized it as a “debate” article. The article is from 2009 and states that Norwegian researchers believe it is unlikely that lobsters feel pain, despite thrashing in the boiling water. I thought the dumbest point of the article was the biologist trying to say the thrashing was due to a reaction to different stimuli, an escape mechanism. Wouldn’t a water creature be less stressed in its natural element and freak out the most once it left the water? A PETA spokesperson said the study might be biased in order to avoid a negative impact on Norway’s fishing industry. However, there was also a study done in the US that claimed lobsters don’t have the brain capacity to feel pain. It seems that most of the general population categorize the (to quote a Maine biologist from this article), “It’s a semantic thing: No brain, no pain” theory as a myth and care about being as humane as possible to their food. Or I hope so anyway! I believe that even if animals are solely raised for food and their species has survived strictly because we consume them (i.e cattle), it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be respected and treated properly. I’m not saying never eat lobster, but if you cook it, make sure you look up ahead of time the most humane way to prepare them. Most directions involved freezing them first and then killing them quickly with a knife. Sorry for the semi-depressing post, but I think it’s important.

As a tangent on the “No brain, no pain” theory, I will include a short youtube video on phantom limbs. According to, “No brain, no pain” I suppose I could modify it to, “No leg, no pain.” Unfortunately for some people, this doesn’t work. When amputees don’t have a body part, they can still feel pain where their leg/arm would be. It can be excruciating in some circumstances and a major problem because how can you fix pain that isn’t actually real? The man who discovered the “mirror therapy” discussed in this video is actually the same man who wrote the book I’m currently reading, The Tell-Tale Brain. Dr. Ramachandran has presented on Ted Talks about phantom limbs and other cool neurology topics if you want to look him up. It’s really interesting! But I think it is obvious that with how complex neural circuitry is, we shouldn’t be making assumptions about sensory biology. More importantly, if we absolutely have to make assumptions about topics as important as pain, we give the study organism the benefit of the doubt.

Yellow American Lobster. Wiki Commons: Steven G. Johnson

Yellow American Lobster. Wiki Commons: Steven G. Johnson


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