Chicken walking on dusty ground outside in Argentina

Why Do We Emotionally Disconnect From Chickens?



Chickens are emotional beings that can feel empathy. Gemma Carder explains why so many humans experience emotional disconnection from chickens and have such complex attitudes towards them.

Language matters

The relationship we have with animals is complex, and a number of factors influence the attitudes we form about them and their treatment. How animals are labeled affects our attitudes towards them. For example, animals labeled as ‘pets’ are usually given greater moral consideration than those labeled as ‘food’ animals.

In light of this, when we classify chickens and other farmed animals as ‘food’ or ‘production’ animals, we immediately put constraints on the way we view them, especially cognitively.

Research has found that when people were asked to rate an animal’s intelligence and 'lovable-ness', they found that non-mammals eaten by people (in this case turkeys, chicken, trout, and lobster) received the lowest ratings of the two factors, compared to mammals such as pigs and sheep, which are commonly eaten.

These results show people devalue ‘food animals’ particularly when they are of non-mammalian species.

What about chickens?

Many consumers avoid a cognitive, or emotional connection with animals involved in the farming industry. It may be easier for some to think of chickens as ‘unintelligent’ or ‘incapable of feeling’ to help overcome the moral dilemma sometimes associated with bad animal welfare in the farming industry. This cognitive dissonance happens in all of us to some degree or another, and of course not just in relation to food.

Can attitudes change?

They can. For example, in one study, students’ attitudes were assessed before and after they spent time training chickens. Results found that once they had spent time with chickens, they rated their intelligence and ability to experience emotions higher than before they spent time with them.

Billions of chickens are raised for their meat each year, often in inhumane conditions. It is fact that chickens can suffer and therefore we know they should be treated humanely.


Chickens being fed at Sweda Farm, a farm in Canada.

What you can do?

Join the global movement of people who are committed to creating a kinder future by eating less meat.

More about