American scientists conducted an experiment and found that some species of pigs have unexpected cognitive abilities for these animals. The results of the study were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.
The experiment involved two Yorkshire pigs Hamlet and Omelet, as well as two micro swings, breeds Panepinto named Ebony and Ivory. Scientists at Purdue University tried to determine whether these animals were capable of playing a simple video game using a joystick.
During the first phase of the experiment, the animals were taught to approach the monitor and operate the joystick with their faces. Then they were taught to play a video game whose goal was to move the cursor to four different walls on the screen.
All four pigs demonstrated a conceptual understanding of the task, and the researchers estimated that their cognitive performance was on par with that of non-human primates, although their dexterity was much lower.
The pigs performed the task with scores well above randomness-an indication that they understood the connection between the joystick movement and the cursor on the screen. According to the researchers, this is an extraordinary result for pigs.
“It is not easy for an animal to realize that the action it performs has an effect elsewhere. The fact that pigs can do this to some extent should make us wonder what else they are capable of learning and how such learning might affect them,” lead author Dr. Candace Croney, a professor at Purdue University and director of the Center for Animal Welfare Science, is quoted in a press release from Frontiers.
It has previously been known that pigs are capable of different types of learning, from basic obedience commands taught to dogs (“come to me” or “sit”) to more complex forms that require changes in behavior when the rules of play change. For example, one experiment showed that pigs can use mirrors to find food hidden behind an obstacle.
In the current study, the authors also tried to train animals and reinforce certain behaviors with food. In doing so, they found that the pigs performed the necessary actions consciously, rather than mechanistically, in anticipation of a reward. So, when the treat machine stopped working, the pigs continued to give correct responses based only on verbal and tactile cues of support from the experimenters.
“This kind of research is very important because, as with any sentient being, the way we interact with pigs and what we do with them affects them and matters to them,” Candice Crony summarizes. – It’s our ethical obligation to understand how pigs receive and remember information because it affects their interactions with us and their environment.”
The authors note that the design of the experiment was originally developed for non-human primates, but in this case, it was not taken to the second stage, where computer symbols are used to communicate directly with the animals.