Why it hurts: with freedom comes the biological need for pain

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We argue that pain is not needed to protect the body from damage unless the organism is able to make free choices in action selection. Then pain (including its affective and evaluative aspects) provides a necessary prioritising motivation to select actions expected to avoid it, whilst leaving the possibility of alternative actions to serve potentially higher priorities. Thus, on adaptive grounds, only organisms having free choice over action selection should experience pain. Free choice implies actions must be selected following appraisal of their effects, requiring a predictive model generating estimates of action outcomes. These features give organisms anticipatory behavioural autonomy (ABA), for which we propose a plausible system using an internal predictive model, integrated into a system able to produce the qualitative and affective aspects of pain. Our hypothesis can be tested using behavioural experiments designed to elicit trade-off responses to novel experiences for which algorithmic (automaton) responses might be inappropriate. We discuss the empirical evidence for our hypothesis among taxonomic groups, showing how testing for ABA guides thinking on which groups might experience pain. It is likely that all vertebrates do and plausible that some invertebrates do (decapods, cephalopods and at least some insects).
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnimal Cognition
Early online date08 Apr 2023
Publication statusEarly online date - 08 Apr 2023


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