Four pigs Hamlet, Omelette, Ebony, and Ivory have achieved an incredible feat on behalf of their species by being able to operate a joystick to achieve video game tasks.
Pigs are awfully misunderstood animals. It is a common misconception that pigs are stupid and dirty. Pigs are, in fact, super clean and do not defecate where they eat and live. They are as smart as, if not smarter than any other domesticated animals. They are also easy to train and yes, even easier to train than dogs are, experts say. They happen to have a high IQ that allows them to actually solve problems. So when four pigs were put to the test of playing video games, the smart animals quickly grasped the concept of gaming and took the researchers by surprise.
Yorkshire pigs Hamlet and Omelette and Panepinto micro pigs Ebony and Ivory were part of the study led by Dr. Candace Croney and Sarah Till Boysen of Purdue University. The researchers wanted to find out the pigs' ability to "acquire a joystick-operated video-game task." The findings were published in the Frontiers in Psychology Journal which stated that the pigs were actually able to acquire the skills of moving around the joystick to complete the video game tasks. The pigs were able to do this "despite dexterity and visual constraints." These four pigs have achieved an incredible feat on behalf of their species.
Researchers believe, the fact that the pigs understood the connection between the stick and the game "is no small feat." Speaking to BBC, Croney stated, "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." What's more, pigs are far-sighted animals with no hands or thumbs, and the fact that they used their snouts to play the video game - was thought of to be "remarkable" by the scientists. But the four pigs had varying skills when it came to excelling at the game.
What the pigs were required to do was move a cursor on a monitor with the help of the joystick to make contact with three, two, or one-walled targets randomly allocated a position. They were given a reward if the cursor collided with a target. Hamlet was better at the game than Omelette, while Ivory was able to hit one-wall targets 76% of the time, Ebony could only do it 34% of the time. The Yorkshire pigs struggled as the tasks got harder. The Panepinto micro pigs had a bigger gamer skill gap. While the pigs are not ready to start playing games on the Xbox just yet, researchers believe the pigs have a "conceptual understanding of the task, as well as skilled motor performance."
Other than using food as rewards, the pigs were also encouraged with verbal and tactile cues. The pigs continued to make correct responses which went onto show only verbal encouragement seemed to be enough to help the pigs during the most challenging tasks. "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,” Croney Frontiers Science News.
After the success of this study, researchers are determined to up their next experiment to see if such a computer interface using symbols could be used to communicate with the pigs more directly. This has already been done with non-human primates. “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,” Croney said.