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Dis Aquat Organ. 2007 May 4;75(2):139-54.

Anthropomorphism and 'mental welfare' of fishes.

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  • 1Department of Zoology and Physiology and Neuroscience Program, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming 82071, USA.


Anthropomorphism, the use of human characteristics as a foundation for interpreting behavior and mental capacities of animals, is a bias undermining our understanding of other species, especially species as evolutionarily distant from humans as fishes. Anthropomorphism is not justified by allusions to evolutionary continuity among vertebrates, because no living vertebrate was ever a descendant of humans, so none could have inherited human traits. Nonetheless, it has recently been claimed that fishes are capable of conscious experiences of pain and emotional feelings and that mental welfare is an important issue for fishes. This paper shows that the evidence supporting claims for experiences of pain or conscious emotions by fishes is conceptually and methodologically flawed. In addition, the paper shows that the natural history and behavior of diverse fish species is inconsistent with a presumption of human-like awareness. This behavioral evidence is in accord with neurobiological observations showing that fishes are very different from us and are unlikely to have a capacity for awareness of pain or emotional feelings that meaningfully resemble our own. The factors that are detrimental to fish welfare have been well delineated by valid, objective indicators of physiological and behavioral well-being. This knowledge should guide welfare decisions. An empirical and non-anthropomorphic examination of diverse fishes and their adaptations should be the foundation for welfare decisions that would be truly beneficial to fishes and humans alike.

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