Pigs show behavioral and mental flexibility in a new study using video games

A new study has found that some pig species have a remarkable level of behavioral and mental flexibility. The study was published recently and tested the ability of four pigs to play a simple joystick-enabled videogame. Researchers say that each of the animals in the study demonstrated some conceptual understanding despite limited dexterity on tasks normally given to non-human primates to analyze intelligence.The study involved two Yorkshire pigs named Hamlet and Omelette and two Panepinto micro pigs named Ebony and Ivory. The quartet of animals was trained to approach and manipulate joystick with their stouts in front of a computer monitor for the first phase of the experiment. The pigs were then taught to play a videogame where the goal was to move a cursor using the joystick toward one of four target walls on the screen.

Researchers found the pigs performed the task well above the level of chance indicating the animal understood the joystick's movement was connected to the cursor on the screen. Researchers believe that simply being able to succeed at the task was remarkable, considering the pigs are far-sighted and have no opposable thumbs. The team says it's an impressive feat for an animal to grasp the concept that the behavior they are performing has an effect elsewhere.

Pigs have been known to have the ability to learn commands similarly to dogs, including commands like "come" and "sit" as well as more complicated behaviors requiring them to change behavior when the rules change. Another study found pigs were able to use mirrors to find hidden food in their enclosure. In the current study, the team used food to teach and reinforce behaviors that were desired and found that social contact also strongly influenced the persistence of the pigs.

An example of this is when the machine dispensing treats failed to work. The pigs continued to make correct responses using verbal and tactile cues. Verbal encouragement alone helped the animals during their challenging task.