Pigs Learn to Play Video Games Using Joysticks with Their Snouts

The study points out that certain pig species have impressive behavioral and mental flexibility.
Fabienne Lang

It turns out certain pig species have impressive behavioral, and mental flexibility after a study demonstrated they could play a simple joystick-assisted video game.

The study published in Frontiers in Psychology involved two Yorkshire pigs named Hamlet and Omelette, and two Panepinto pigs called Ebony and Ivory.

The ultimate point of the study was to help understand how far an animal's intelligence can go, which provides information about its evolution, how it compares to humans and other animals, and how its understanding can impact its wellbeing.

What happened during the study 

For the first part of the experiment, all four pigs were taught how to use a joystick in front of a computer monitor by using their snouts. Then they were trained to use the joystick to move a cursor up to four wall targets on the screen as part of a video game. 

The study notes that the pigs' control of the joystick and movement of the cursor was "well above chance," demonstrating how much they understood about what they had to do. 

"It is no small feat for an animal to grasp the concept that the behavior they are performing is having an effect elsewhere. That pigs can do this to any degree should give us pause as to what else they are capable of learning and how such learning may impact them," said lead author of the study, Dr. Candace Croney, a professor at Purdue University.

The authors of the study used food as an incentive when training the pigs, and when treats weren't given, the pigs remarkably still showed cognition as they responded to the trainers' verbal and tactile cues. It even turned out that only verbal encouragement worked for the pigs during the especially tricky parts of the tasks. 

The study sheds important light on how much pigs acquire information, and how our actions and their surrounding environments impact them. 

As Croney said, "Informing management practices and improving pig welfare was and still is a major goal, but really, that is secondary to better appreciate the uniqueness of pigs outside of any benefit we can derive from them."

This study appears to be a bolster for a similar 1997 study carried out by Stanley Curtis of Pennsylvania State University, which also involved pigs trained to use joysticks to complete a game. Combining both studies may be the answer researchers have been waiting for to prove just how remarkable some pigs' skills are.

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