Discrimination between nociceptive reflexes and more complex responses consistent with pain in crustaceans

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Animals have quick-acting nociceptive reflexes that protect them from tissue damage. Some taxa have also evolved the capacity for pain. Pain appears to be linked to long-term changes in motivation brought about by the aversive nature of the experience. Pain presumably enhances long-term protection through behaviour modification based, in part, on memory. However, crustaceans have long been viewed as responding purely by reflex and thus not experiencing pain. This paper considers behavioural and physiological criteria that distinguish nociception from potential pain in this taxon. These include trade-offs with other motivational systems and prolonged motivational change. Complex, prolonged grooming or rubbing demonstrate the perception of the specific site of stimulus application. Recent evidence of fitness-enhancing, anxiety-like states is also consistent with the idea of pain. Physiological changes in response to noxious stimuli mediate some of the behavioural change. Rapid avoidance learning and prolonged memory indicate central processing rather than mere reflexes. Thus, available data go beyond the idea of just nociception. However, the impossibility of total proof of pain described in ways appropriate for our own species means that pain in crustaceans is still disputed. Pain in animals should be defined in ways that do not depend on human pain experience. This article is part of the Theo Murphy meeting issue 'Evolution of mechanisms and behaviour important for pain'.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20190368
Number of pages6
JournalPhilosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences
Issue number1785
Early online date23 Sep 2019
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2019


  • anxiety
  • avoidance learning
  • motivation
  • nociception
  • pain
  • trade-off

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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