Animal Sentience: An Interdisciplinary Journal on Animal Feeling

Commentary Type

Invited Commentary


Evolutionarily conserved features have been demonstrated at many levels of biological organization across a variety of species. Evolutionary conservation may apply to complex behavioral phenomena too. It is thus not inconceivable that a form of sentience does exist even in the lowest order vertebrate taxon, the teleosts. How similar it is to human sentience in its level of complexity or in its multidimensional features is a difficult question, especially from an experimental standpoint, given that even the definition of human sentience is debated. Woodruff attempts a Turing-like test of fish sentience, and lists numerous neuroanatomic, neurophysiological and behavioral similarities between fish and humans. In this commentary, I add to these similarities by discussing empirical findings showing complex forms of mental representation in fish. At the same time, I note that without a more thorough understanding of human sentience and more data on similarities as well as differences between fish and mammals, the final conclusion may have to wait.

Author Biography

Robert Gerlai, Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto, does research on neurobiological and genetic mechanisms of behavior in fish and rodents. He is Fellow and past president of the International Behavioral Neuroscience Society. He received the Distinguished Scientist Award from the International Behavioral and Neural Genetics Society in 2013, and the University of Toronto Mississauga Excellence in Research Award in 2015. sites.utoronto.ca/GerlaiLab/