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Biol Open. 2016 Jul 15;5(7):883-8. doi: 10.1242/bio.019216.

No discrimination shock avoidance with sequential presentation of stimuli but shore crabs still reduce shock exposure.

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School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University, Belfast BT9 7BL, Northern Ireland, UK.
School of Biological Sciences, Queen's University, Belfast BT9 7BL, Northern Ireland, UK


Insights into the potential for pain may be obtained from examination of behavioural responses to noxious stimuli. In particular, prolonged responses coupled with long-term motivational change and avoidance learning cannot be explained by nociceptive reflex but are consistent with the idea of pain. Here, we placed shore crabs alternately in two halves of a test area divided by an opaque partition. Each area had a dark shelter and in one repeated small electric shocks were delivered in an experimental but not in a control group. Crabs showed no specific avoidance of the shock shelter either during these trials or in a subsequent test in which both were offered simultaneously; however they often emerged from the shock shelter during a trial and thus avoided further shock. More crabs emerged in later trials and took less time to emerge than in early trials. Thus, despite the lack of discrimination learning between the two shelters they used other tactics to markedly reduce the amount of shock received. We note that a previous experiment using simultaneous presentation of two shelters demonstrated rapid discrimination and avoidance learning but the paradigm of sequential presentation appears to prevent this. Nevertheless, the data show clearly that the shock is aversive and tactics, other than discrimination learning, are used to avoid it. Thus, the behaviour is only partially consistent with the idea of pain.


Avoidance; Discrimination; Electric shock; Nociception; Pain; Shore crab

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