Pigs can play video games with their snouts, scientists find

Share this with Email Share this with Facebook Share this with Twitter Share this with Whatsapp

Image copyright ESTON MARTZ / PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY
Image caption Hamlet - or perhaps Omelette - hits the arcade, hoping to win big

Pigs can play video games, scientists have found, after putting four fun-loving swine to the test.

Four pigs - Hamlet, Omelette, Ebony and Ivory - were trained to use an arcade-style joystick to steer an on-screen cursor into walls.

Researchers said the fact that the pigs understood the connection between the stick and the game "is no small feat".

And the pigs even continued playing when the food reward dispenser broke - apparently for the social contact.

Usually, the pigs would be given a food pellet for "winning" the game level. But during testing, it broke - and they kept clearing the game levels when encouraged by some of the researchers' kind words.

"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," lead author Dr Candace Croney said.

Image copyright Candace Croney
Image caption Ebony the pig operates a joystick

The research team also thought that the fact the pigs could play video games at all - since they are far-sighted animals with no hands or thumbs - was "remarkable".

But it was not easy for them.

Out of the two Yorkshire pigs, Hamlet, was better at the game than Omelette, but both struggled when it got harder - hitting the single target just under half the time.

The Panepinto micro pigs had a bigger gamer skill gap - while Ivory was able to hit one-wall targets 76% of the time, Ebony could only do it 34% of the time.

Image copyright Frontiers in Pschology
Image caption The pigs were first trained on a non-functioning joystick to get them used to the idea

But the researchers were still satisfied that the attempts were deliberate and focused, rather than random - what they called "above chance".

That means that "to some extent, all acquired the association between the joystick and cursor movement".

Kate Daniels, from Willow Farm in Worcestershire, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that while the scientists might have been impressed, "I don't think this will come as a surprise to anyone that works with pigs".

She added: "They're not playing Minecraft - but that they can manipulate a situation to get a reward is no surprise at all."

Image copyright Eston Martz / Pennsylvania State University
Image caption Lead author Dr Croney said the pigs' achievements were remarkable

She paraphrased a quote often attributed to Winston Churchill: "Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you, and pigs look you right in the eye."

She added: "When you look a pig right in the eye, you can tell there's intelligence there."

Still, pigs are no match for humans when playing games - or even less intelligent primates.

The same kind of experiment has been tried with chimpanzees and monkeys, who have the advantage of opposable thumbs, and were able to meet much higher requirements from researchers.

The research paper was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.