CE02 - Milieux et biodiversité : Terre vivante

Emotion and decision making in the cuttlefish, Sepia – ETHiCS

Submission summary

Emotions and their potential underlying conscious process are still under sharp debate in animals. They are however crucial points when considering the increasing interest of public and authorities in animal welfare, for research as well as for culture purposes. Researches in this field mainly focus on vertebrate species; the scarce studies on invertebrates are only led on insect species. To date, no work tackled the sensitive area of emotion in mollusk species. ETHiCs proposes to provide new insights on emotion in two species of cephalopod mollusks: European common cuttlefish Sepia officinalis in France and Asian pharaoh cuttlefish Sepia pharaonis in Taïwan. Since cephalopods are phylogenetically far from humans and their nervous system is the most complex among invertebrates, this proposed research is particularly illuminating in advancing our understanding of animal emotion. Specifically, comparative studies of these two cuttlefish species are of high interest in emotion research field because they are very closely related to each other, but evolve from distinct environments and thus differ in their sensitivity to various abiotic and biotic stressors. This offers a unique opportunity to consider animal-species evolutionary history (evolutionary plasticity) in the individual emotional profiles (phenotypic plasticity). Cephalopods are considered as mammals in regulations on animal welfare in many countries throughout the world, despite a lack of knowledge about their abilities to experience suffering (negative emotion) or well-being (positive emotion). Thus, the proposed study is essential on this important subject.

ETHiCs is organized as follows :

WP 0 : Project management

WP 1: Assessment of emotional profile in both species after individuals cope with negative (predator odor) and positive (new prey) events:
ETHiCs will describe both negative and positive emotion-related behaviors, assess optimism (through cognitive bias) and measure the level of different monoamines in hemolymph. WP1 aims to establish an "emotion-profile" in both species. These profiles are expected to be good predictors of cuttlefish welfare.

WP2: Measuring emotion induced by a dilemma
An animal can be in an uncomfortable situation after having chosen between two positive objects. This simple and innovative protocol, with assessment of emotional status of the subject, would allow to test whether a cuttlefish is capable of mental representation of the consequences of a behavior that was not done (to catch the not-chosen object). Then, emotional assessment can be used to evidence primary (phenomenal) consciousness skills in both species of cuttlefish.

WP3 : Effects of individual and species history in emotional traits
This WP aims to define emotional traits of individuals of both species when they are previously reared in different conditions (uncomfortable/intermediate/comfortable). By comparing environmental sensibility of emotion in the two species, we will be able to determine the relative « weight » of individual vs. species history in emotional profiles in cuttlefish. This question is basic in ethology.

WP4: This WP aims to overall gathering WPs 1 to 3.

ETHiCS will provide tools to assess cuttlefish welfare in captivity, then provide information to refine the regulation about animal welfare in each country, specifically on the effect of enrichment of their rearing environment. The project will also provide new insights about invertebrate emotions, their causation, their effects, their functions and their eventual consequences on individuals’ subjective experience. Comparative studies of Taiwanese and French species will allow better understanding of the evolutionary root of animal emotion and consciousness, a fundamental issue in biological sciences, in bioethics, in law, and in epistemology.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Ludovic Dickel (Ethologie animale et humaine)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Visual Neuroscience
Etho'S Ethologie animale et humaine

Help of the ANR 309,582 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: March 2019 - 36 Months

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