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Pigs show potential for ‘remarkable’ level of behavioral, mental flexibility in new study



Pigs show potential for 'remarkable' level of behavioral, mental flexibility in new study

Yorkshire pig steering the joystick. Credit: Eston Martz / Pennsylvania State University

Pigs will probably never be able to fly, but new research reveals that some species in the genus Sus may have a remarkable level of behavioral and mental flexibility. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology tested the ability of four pigs to play a single joystick-enabled video game. Each animal demonstrated some conceptual understanding despite limited dexterity in tasks typically given to non-human primates to analyze intelligence.


The study involved two Yorkshire pigs called Hamlet and Omelette, and two Panepinto micro pigs, Ebony and Ivory. All four animals were trained to approach and manipulate a joystick with their snout in front of a computer screen during the first phase of the experiment. They were then taught how to play a video game where the goal was to move the cursor using the joystick against up to four target walls on the screen.

Each pig performed the tasks well above the chance, indicating that the animal understood that the movement of the joystick was connected to the cursor on the computer screen. The fact that these far-sighted animals without the opposite thumb could succeed in the task, is according to the researchers “remarkable”

;.

“It is not a small feat for an animal to understand the concept that the behavior they perform has an effect elsewhere. That pigs can do this to any degree should give us a break from what else they are able to learn. and how such learning can affect them, “said lead author Dr. Candace Croney, a professor at Purdue University and director of the Purdue Center for Animal Welfare Science. Sarah T. Boysen, known for her work with chimpanzee cognition, was a co-author of the study.

Pigs show potential for 'remarkable' level of behavioral, mental flexibility in new study

Corresponding author Dr Candace Croney and one of the pigs from Yorkshire, Omelette. Credit: Eston Martz / Pennsylvania State University

Researchers already know that pigs are capable of different types of learning, from the same type of basic obedience commands that are taught to dogs that “come” and “sit” to more complex behaviors that require them to change behavior when the rules of the game change. A study has even shown that pigs can use mirrors to find hidden food in a enclosure, Croney noted.

In the current study, the team used food to learn and reinforce behaviors, but also found that social contact could greatly affect their endurance. For example, when the machine distribution of treats did not work, the pigs continued to give correct answers with only verbal and tactile signals. And only verbal encouragement seemed to help the animals during the most challenging tasks.

“This type of study is important because, as with all essential beings, how we interact with pigs and what we do to them affects and means something to them,” Croney said. “We therefore have an ethical obligation to understand how pigs acquire information, and what they are able to learn and remember, because it ultimately has implications for how they perceive their interaction with us and their environment.”

Pigs show potential for 'remarkable' level of behavioral, mental flexibility in new study

Panepinto micro pig Ebony operates the joystick. Credit: Candace Croney

While the pigs could not match the skill level of non-human primates on the video task and did not meet the criteria used for primates to demonstrate full mastery of the concept, the researchers said the shortcomings could be partly explained by the nature of the experiment. , which was designed for dexterous, visually oriented mammals.

The study ended before the researchers could investigate a more ambitious goal: whether such a computer interface using symbols could be used to communicate with pigs more directly, as has been done with non-human primates.

“Informing management practices and improving pig welfare was and still is an important goal, but really, it’s secondary to better appreciating pigs’ unique visibility beyond any benefit we can get from them,” Croney said.


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More information:
Frontiers in Psychology (2021). DOI: 10.3389 / fpsyg.2021.631755, www.frontiersin.org/articles/1… sjuk.2021.631755 / full

Citation: Pigs show potential for ‘remarkable’ level of behavioral, mental flexibility in new study (2021, 11 February) retrieved 11 February 2021 from https://phys.org/news/2021-02-pigs-potential-remarkable- behavioral- mental.html

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