Elwood, R. W. 2022. Caution is required when considering sentience in animals: A response to the commentary by Briffa (2022) on “Hermit crabs, shells, and sentience” (Elwood 2022). Animal Cognition 25(6), 1371–1374.

My recent review examined the complex and intimate relationship between hermit crabs and the empty gastropod shells upon which they depend for survival. Because shells come with costs as well as benefits, the crabs are highly selective about which ones they prefer to occupy. Thus, a new shell is investigated and the information that is gathered appears to be compared with their existing shell before a decision is made. This is often prolonged and complex. Crabs also fight for shells and again the information that is gathered and used to inform fight decisions is complex. In my review, I consider these and other situations with reference to the possibility of sentience (including awareness). The excellent commentary from Mark Briffa expands on aspects of sentience and invokes the use of Lloyd Morgan’s Canon to avoid suggesting complex abilities when simpler explanations would suffice. I agree with this approach. However, I also suggest that when simpler explanations appear not to explain the data, then it is reasonable to consider if more complex mental abilities might be used. I also like Briffa’s suggestion that the use of an apparently higher mental faculty might result in a mechanism that is simpler than a large number of apparently simple decisions used to make complex decisions.

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