I was reading this question, and it reminded me of something interesting I had once stumbled upon, although for the life of me I cannot remember where.

I think it may have been a book (perhaps a lecture on YouTube or an article) but I remember certainly that it was by a philosopher/cognitive scientist of a distinctly 'Turing bent' (Dennett, Pinker or some such). The author (resp. lecturer)'s contention was that certain experiments concerning chickens and cages indicated that, by virtue of their non-resistance to (indeed eagerness toward) captivity, chickens did not experience 'high order suffering' as equated with a frustration of desire.

Now perhaps I am remembering the argument through somewhat rose-tinted spectacles, but I remember the design of the experiment as 'ruling out' or at least reasonably discounting a sort of Stockholm syndrome on the part of the subjects, but google reveals only an untrackdownable 1980 reference to Dawkins (mentioned in the linked page- a find-search for 'Dawkins' will track it down) in which caged hens initially preferred cages to runs whenb given the choice.

Is this just a false memory? Perhaps Dawkins' deeply unconvincing experiment is the most convincing out there. Has anyone seen or heard anything similar? Can anyone put a stop to the repeated kicking of myself that has followed my failing to jot down the reference in the first place?

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    Peter Singer, a noted vegan utilitarian, has likely considered this.
    – Joseph Weissman
    Jul 7, 2011 at 14:47
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    I wish the title were different--I keep wanting to answer: "On a chicken farm!" I can see the philosophical applications of such an experiment, but it really seems to be either a biological or psychology question to me. Jul 7, 2011 at 20:51
  • Hmm. A meta-debate beckons...? Jul 8, 2011 at 12:28
  • R.G. Frey might also be worth investigating. Although I don't remember seeing anything that he wrote about chicken's non-resistance or eagerness towards captivity. (In fact, I'm quite skeptical about that claim in general...) Jul 8, 2011 at 12:53
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    @Joseph: thanks, the retitling makes a big difference...'chickens' is just too specific.
    – Mitch
    Jul 11, 2011 at 21:14

1 Answer 1


With respect to the new title "animals in captivity" there surely has been lots of psycho-pharmaceutical research into the effects of certain kinds of captivity on animals' biochemical reactions to different kinds of sensory deprivation.

As to actual reference to research, there is Jane Goodall's Chimpanzoo project to study the affect of zoo captivity on chimpanzee behavior (in comparison to non-captive chimps). I'm sure there are links to research about similar situations with other animal types.

Most of this research is probably only about the outward effects to the animals with little philosophical discussion about the ethical aspects.

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