"The fish given the morphine acted like they always had: swimming and being fish," Garner said. "The fish that had gotten saline - even though they responded the same in the test - later acted different, though. They acted with defensive behaviors, indicating wariness, or fear and anxiety."
Nordgreen said those behavioral differences showed that fish can feel both reflexive and cognitive pain.
"The experiment shows that fish do not only respond to painful stimuli with reflexes, but change their behavior also after the event," Nordgreen said. "Together with what we know from experiments carried out by other groups, this indicates that the fish consciously perceive the test situation as painful and switch to behaviors indicative of having been through an aversive experience."
Garner believes that the morphine blocked the experience of pain, but not behavioral responses to the heat stimulus itself - either because the responses were reflexive or because the morphine blocked the experience of pain, but not the experience of an unusual stimulus.
"If you think back to when you have had a headache and taken a painkiller, the pain may go away, but you can still feel the presence or discomfort of the headache," Garner said.
Those with saline both experienced pain in the test, as well as responding to it, and were able to cognitively process that pain, thus causing the later fear and anxiety.
"The goldfish that did not get morphine experienced this painful, stressful event. Then two hours later, they turned that pain into fear like we do," Garner said. "To me, it sounds an awful lot like how we experience pain."
The findings could raise questions about slaughter methods and how fish are handled in research. Garner said standards of care could be revisited to ensure fish are being treated humanely.
|Contact: Brian Wallheimer|