The paper appeared in the Frontiers in Psychology journal, and showed how two Yorkshire pigs, Hamlet and Omelet, and two Panepinto micro pigs, Ebony and Ivory, became adept at playing video games.
The pigs were trained using a “rudimentary joystick-operated video game task” that was first developed to test chimpanzees and rhesus monkeys. The pigs learned how to use the joystick with their snouts, allowing them to move a computer cursor across a screen. When they were able to get the cursor to hit a wall, the game dispensed a snack to them.
The game had different levels of difficulty and the pigs were very successful, with Ivory hitting the wall with her cursor at a rate of 76 percent of the time. “That the pigs achieved the level of success they did on a task that was significantly outside their normal frame of reference in itself remarkable, and indicative of their behavioral and cognitive flexibility,” the study says. And when the joystick broke, the hogs “continued to make correct responses when rewarded only with verbal and tactile reinforcement from the experimenter, who was also their primary caretaker.”
According to the study, the pigs weren’t as successful at the game as the chimps and monkeys, which could have been because the hogs had to use the joystick with their snouts. “Future studies of the cognitive capacities of pigs and other domestic species may benefit from the use of touchscreens or other advanced computer-interfaced technology,” the study states.
Some of the research was carried out by Stanley Curtis, a “legendary swine researcher” who passed away in 2010. Candace Croney, director of Purdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science, and Sarah Boysen, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University co-authored the paper.
Croney told HuffPost that the study indicated that the swine were able to “think abstractly and do fairly advanced conceptual learning.”
She continued, “We could train them on how to manipulate the joystick and how to attend to the screen but they had to independently figure out the connection between what they were doing and where … their behavior was actually having an effect.” She said, “You cannot teach that. The animal either figures it out or they don’t. And there is nothing in the natural behavior or evolutionary history of the pig that would have suggested they could do this to any degree.”