Researchers from Purdue University in Indiana said they were able to train four pigs to perform a “joystick-operated video game task” to get treats.
The pig’s success rate in the thesis was described by researchers as “remarkable and indicates their behavioral and cognitive flexibility.”
The animals – a pair of two-year-old Panepinto micro-pigs and two three-month-old Yorkshire pigs – were trained to manipulate a joystick to control a marker on a computer screen, researchers said in a study published Thursday. .
The cursor can be used to hit three targets – of varying difficulty – on the screen. When the target was hit, an automatic pellet dispenser released the food.
Prior to the experiment, researchers from the University̵
The animals had to approach a computer, which had “walls” – or thick blue digital lines – scattered around the screen.
They then had to choose one of the “walls” with the cursor to get a treat. As the pig’s accuracy improved, the number of “walls” was reduced to two, and then to one, and became more difficult.
The Panepinto pigs, Ebony and Ivory, both performed well – 84% success rate – when presented with wooden wall targets.
But there was a skill difference between the two pigs when the number of goals was reduced, with Ivory able to hit a wall 76% of the time, against Ebony’s 34%.
Meanwhile, Yorkshire pigs Hamlet and Omelet managed to complete the “over chance” task when presented with two walls or a single wall on the screen, but not when presented with three walls.
The researchers decided “over the chance” to be beyond what goals the pigs could have been expected to get right, randomly.
The pigs spent between three and four months participating in the experiment.
‘Impressive learning skills’
The paper’s authors, Candace C. Croney, professor of animal behavior and welfare and director of the University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science, and Sarah T. Boysen, senior researcher at the university, said the experiment suggested that animals had an intelligent understanding of the task.
“The acquisition of the video assignment required a conceptual understanding of the assignment, as well as skilled motor performance,” they said in the newspaper.
Speaking to CNN, Croney said she hoped the paper would inspire further research into the cognitive abilities of pigs.
“It would be nice for people to realize how unique pigs are, and how much more mentally sophisticated they can be than we previously recognized,” she said.
She hoped research would help people understand how to better “enrich” animal life.
Christian Nawroth, who was not involved in the study and is a researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Germany, commented on the significance of the findings, saying the paper demonstrated “the impressive learning abilities of pigs.”
“We already know that pigs are good problem solvers, but the ability to use a joystick to navigate a cursor on a screen is certainly something that has not been on the list of pets so far,” he told CNN, adding that the task the pigs were given was “not easy to solve.”
“We still underestimate the smartness of pigs and livestock in general. As this path of research, livestock cognition, takes off steam, we will probably see more research on more sophisticated learning and cognitive skills in livestock over the next few years,” he added.
The results were published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.