No Bird Brains Here: Chickens Exhibit Self-Control and Self-Assessment

Posted by Allie Layos
brown rooster

Humble chickens are apparently much smarter than most people have imagined. 

Backyard chicken farmers have long maintained that their chickens are smart, but to most of the population, this thought is a foreign one.

However, a study published this week in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Animal Cognition shows that the chicken owners are right: Chickens are very intelligent, have a good measure of self-control, and might even have Machiavellian tendencies.

The paper, authored by neuroscientist Lori Marino, compiled the conclusions from several studies showing that chickens demonstrate self-control and self-assessment, which may indicate self-awareness. The studies also show the capacity for cunning and duplicity, which Marino described as Machiavellian-like social interactions.

chicken flock

According to the paper, chickens possess an understanding of numbers and basic arithmetic, and have the capacity to reason and make logical inferences. They are capable of simple forms of deductive reasoning, something that humans develop around the age of seven. Chickens even have an understanding of time and appear able to anticipate future events.

Chickens also learn social skills and rules in complex ways that are similar to humans. They communicate in complex ways, too, using something called referential communication, which may demonstrate a level of self-awareness and the ability to view other animals' perspectives. Chickens have complex emotions (both negative and positive), and have shown evidence for a simple form of empathy.

In fact, when it comes to intelligence, chickens may be on par with dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and even humans, Marino said in an interview with The Mercury News.

chicken in doorway

Many modern-day chickens are raised in cruel conditions on egg farms. They spend their lives in cramped cages and are killed at the age of two to keep egg production at a maximum.

Marino, who is also the executive director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that supports basic animal rights, hopes that studying these intelligent and social creatures will help improve their treatment in the future.

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No Bird Brains Here: Chickens Exhibit Self-Control and Self-Assessment