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In humans, pain is a distressing feeling often caused by intense or damaging stimuli.
However, for non-human animals, it is harder, if even possible, to know whether an emotional experience has occurred.
Therefore, this concept is often excluded in definitions of pain in animals, such as that provided by Zimmerman: "an aversive sensory experience caused by actual or potential injury that elicits protective motor and vegetative reactions, results in learned avoidance and may modify species-specific behaviour, including social behaviour." Non-human animals cannot report their feelings to language-using humans in the same manner as human communication, but observation of their behaviour provides a reasonable indication as to the extent of their pain. National Research Council Committee on Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals, pain is experienced by many animal species, including mammals and possibly all vertebrates.
Just as with doctors and medics who sometimes share no common language with their patients, the indicators of pain can still be understood. This is the ability to detect noxious stimuli which evoke a reflex response that rapidly moves the entire animal, or the affected part of its body, away from the source of the stimulus.
The concept of nociception does not imply any adverse, subjective "feeling" – it is a reflex action.
An example in humans would be the rapid withdrawal of a finger that has touched something hot – the withdrawal occurs before any sensation of pain is actually experienced.
The second component is the experience of "pain" itself, or suffering – the internal, emotional interpretation of the nociceptive experience.Again in humans, this is when the withdrawn finger begins to hurt, moments after the withdrawal. Pain cannot be directly measured in other animals, including other humans; responses to putatively painful stimuli can be measured, but not the experience itself.To address this problem when assessing the capacity of other species to experience pain, argument-by-analogy is used.This is based on the principle that if an animal responds to a stimulus in a similar way to ourselves, it is likely to have had an analogous experience.Reflex arc of a dog when its paw is stuck with a pin.The spinal cord responds to signals from receptors in the paw, producing a reflex withdrawal of the paw.This localized response does not involve brain processes that might mediate a consciousness of pain, though these might also occur.Nociception usually involves the transmission of a signal along nerve fibers from the site of a noxious stimulus at the periphery to the spinal cord.Although this signal is also transmitted on to the brain, a reflex response, such as flinching or withdrawal of a limb, is produced by return signals originating in the spinal cord.Thus, both physiological and behavioral responses to nociception can be detected, and no reference need be made to a conscious experience of pain.Based such criteria nociception has been observed in all major animal taxa.