Chicken, the easiest of all non-fish meats to convince yourself it's okay to eat on moral grounds, is now a little more difficult to rationalize consuming. A new study seems to indicate that the birds can feel empathy—meaning they can theoretically feel the pain and distress of other chickens:
A number of controlled procedures were carried out which involved ruffling the feathers of chicks and mother hens with an air puff.
When chicks were exposed to puffs of air, they showed signs of distress that were mirrored by their mothers. The hens' heart rate increased, their eye temperature lowered - a recognised stress sign - and they became increasingly alert. Levels of preening were reduced, and the hens made more clucking noises directed at their chicks.
Obviously, we'd never suggest that you stop eating chicken (if only because if we did, our email inbox would be filled with over-enthusiastically angry, and unnecessarily macho, missives about how awesome it is to eat meat). Chicken is heart-healthy! It can taste great, if you cook it well. Some of us, on the other hand, are weenie-types who feel weird about killing animals in the first place, let alone animals with the capacity for feeling and empathy! Not that, obviously, it will stop us. It will just make us stay up later at night, thinking about stuff and feeling sad. Which is what empathy is all about.