Are cephalopods conscious beings?

Mather, J. (2008). Cephalopod consciousness: behavioural evidence. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 37-48

There are many approaches to studying consciousness, some of which are anthropocentric and difficult to apply to aquatic invertebrates such as cephalopods. The author addresses this, providing an insightful look into cephalopod consciousness.

Evidence of lateralisation in cephalopods, which has previously been linked to consciousness are explored and discussed.  An intriguing example of lateralisation was reported in squid skin displays. Some squid are seen to display a different skin pattern on each half of their bodies in sexual or agnostic displays.  

Evidence of primary consciousness

In addition to lateralisation, the author shares examples of learning and play by cephalopods. Cephalopods are yet to pass the mirror test (a common test of self awareness). However, observational research in octopuses shows they have a sense of where their body is in relation to the larger environment. For example, octopuses do not forage in areas they have already foraged in the past few days, implying they have an episodic memory of where they have been previously.

The author concludes that cephalopods are likely to have primary consciousness. They use sensory inputs and choose behavioural responses based on such inputs. They also use memory, forms of communication, play and learning.

World Animal Protection’s view

We hope this paper allows for better understanding of invertebrates and their many capabilities. More evidence of consciousness and capabilities in cephalopods and other invertebrate animals are being discovered. Such evidence will help support lobbying efforts to improve their welfare.

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