Yorkshire pigs Hamlet and Omelette and Panepinto micro pigs Ebony and Ivory are ambassadors for their species. The quartet was the focus of a study that tested whether they could learn to play a video game. Spoiler alert: They were pretty good at it.
Purdue animal behavior specialist Candace Croney and chimpanzee cognition expert Sarah Boysen co-authored a study on the pigs published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology on Thursday. The study describes an experiment to investigate cognitive processes (“such as memory, attention and conceptualization”
The experiment first involved teaching the pigs how to manipulate a joystick using the snout. They were then taught to use the joystick to play a video game on a screen in front of them. The pigs do not save Princess Peach yet, but they showed a remarkable ability to learn and operate the game.
“Each pig performed the tasks well above chance, indicating that the animal understood that the movement of the joystick was connected to the cursor on the computer screen,” Frontiers said in a statement.
The pigs were rewarded with food to play the game properly, but they also responded to verbal encouragement.
Frontiers said the pigs “did not meet the criteria used for primates to demonstrate full mastery of the concept,” but researchers suspect this may be related to the way the experiment works. It was not designed for far-sighted animals with limited dexterity. Researchers suggest that a touch screen may be an option to explore in the future.
The study was small and limited in scope, but it could have implications for researchers ‘understanding of the pig’s intelligence and the animals’ ability to learn. The researchers are interested in taking the study further to see if computers and symbols can be used to communicate with pigs.
“It’s no small feat for an animal to understand the concept that the behavior they perform has an effect elsewhere,” Croney said. “That pigs can do this to some degree should give us a break about what else they are capable of learning and how such learning can affect them.”