'Pig'uliar research reveals new use for computer joysticks

Erika Armanino reports on new research suggesting pigs may be even smarter than we think

Erika Armanino
27th February 2021
Image Credit: ivabalk on Pixabay
The Centre for Animal Welfare Science has found that pigs can use computer joysticks in exchange for treats.

The four pigs selected for the experiment - Hamlet, Omelette, Ebony and Ivory - were trained to play video games in exchange for treats.

Pigs have always been considered smarter than the majority of animals, but now the research suggests they are even smarter than previously thought.

Reported in Frontiers in Psychology, authors report how the four pigs used their snouts while watching a computer screen and how the researchers trained the animals with tasty treats.

Image Credit: Universal Information and Entertainment TV on YouTube

The four pigs had to manoeuvre a cursor until its collision with one of the four walls on the screen. The more successful the pig was, the easier the next level was.

The results revealed the two Yorkshire pigs - Hamlet and Omelette - were able to complete the task better when faced with the one or two-wall levels while struggling more with the three and four ones.

Ebony and Ivory, the Panepinto micro pigs, had a bigger game gap compared to the Yorkshire couple - Ivory hit the one-wall targets 76% of the time while Ebony made it only 34% of the time.

Despite their incredible results, pigs didn’t perform as well as rhesus monkeys and chimps, who have already been tested with joystick consoles. This was probably because the quartet had to move the joysticks with their snouts.

Pigs may be capable of learning and understanding even more than we have previously envisaged

Candace Croney, co-author of the paper and part of Purdue University (US), said during a press release, “This sort of study is important because, as with any sentient beings, how we interact with pigs and what we do to them impacts and matters to them. We therefore have an ethical obligation to understand how pigs acquire information, and what they are capable of learning and remembering, because it ultimately has implications for how they perceive their interactions with us and their environments.”

“Potentially there may be more that pigs are capable of learning and understanding and responding to than we have previously envisaged,” she added in an interview.

The pigs involved in the experiment are well and safe, except for Omelette who developed health conditions and had to be euthanised. Hamlet is spending the rest of his life in a farm, while Ebony and Ivory live in a children’s zoo. 

Hamlet also appeared in a short BBC documentary where his gaming skills were compared with a Jack Russell terrier. Even after a year of training, the terrier struggled to master the joystick, showing that pigs may be not only as clever as dogs, but even smarter. 

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