Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have taught four pigs how to work a joystick and play a basic video game.
“A study involving two different pig species demonstrated that the animals are capable of remarkable behavioral and mental flexibility. The pigs learned to play a simple video game, connecting the movement of the cursor on the computer screen to the joystick they manipulated using their snouts.”
The players included Yorkshire pigs Hamlet and Omelette, along with Panepinto micro pigs Ebony and Ivory. No word yet on their pending eSports sponsorship.
Study co-authors Candace Croney and Sarah Boysen first started their research with a number of training exercises that taught the pigs how to manipulate a mock joystick on command.
For the actual video game, they used what looks like a very tiny pig-specific arcade cabinet. The pigs controlled a small white dot, and the goal was to move the dot into a blue wall somewhere on the screen. If successful, they were given food.
The researchers varied the number of targets, ranging from one wall to four, and while the pigs didn’t perform as well as primates, they did well enough for a species lacking hands. Ivory the Panepinto micro pig hit a high score of 76% when dealing with one-walled targets.
According to Croney, a professor at Purdue University and director of the Purdue Center for Animal Welfare Science, this research provides even more insight into how intelligent these animals really are:
“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.”
When it comes to diet, however, they may have some work to do.
“After 12 weeks of training, Hamlet and Omelet were terminated from the experiment because they had grown too large to stand long enough to complete sessions, and also no longer fit within the constraints of the test pen.”
You can read the full study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.