They’ve long been thought of as smarter than your average animal, but now researchers claim they need taught pigs to use a joystick suggesting they’re even cleverer than previously thought. Pigs have previously been found to be capable of some tasks, including solving multiple-choice puzzles and learning commands like sit.

Now researchers within the US say they need successfully trained four pigs to control a joystick and control a cursor on a monitor. Potentially there could also be more than pigs are capable of learning and understanding and responding to than we’ve previously envisaged, said Prof Candace Croney of Purdue University, who co-authored the research

Writing within the journal Frontiers in Psychology, Croney and co-author Dr. Sarah Boysen report how they used tasty treats to coach the pigs to maneuver the joysticks using their snouts while watching a display screen. The researchers then presented the quartet with a computer game during which the pigs had to use the joystick to maneuver a cursor until it collided with one among four wall-like structures on the screen. Upon collision, the sport made a bloop sound and therefore the pig received a treat.

The more successful the pig was, the less the amount of walls presented within the game. The team analyzed the last 50 trials by each pig on the three-, two- and one-wall scenarios successively, determining how often the pig hit a target wall with their first cursor movement.

The results reveal Hamlet and Omelette, three-month-old male Yorkshire pigs, were ready to complete the task better than chance when presented with two walls or one wall on screen, but not when presented with three walls.

THE PIGS GREW OUT OF GAMING.

After 12 weeks of coaching, Hamlet and Omelette were terminated from the experiment because that they had grown over large to face long enough to finish sessions, and also not fit within the constraints of the test pen, the team writes.

The picture was more mixed for Ebony and Ivory, two-year-old male Panepinto micro pigs who had 15 months of coaching and testing: both did better than chance when presented with three walls or one wall, but only Ivory did better than fall upon the two-wall condition. That the pigs achieved the extent of success they did on a task that was significantly outside their normal frame of reference is in itself remarkable and indicative of their behavioral and cognitive flexibility the researchers write, adding that encouragement from the pig’s trainer seemed as important as treats, if less so, in spurring the animals on.

However, the pigs didn’t do also overall at the sport as previously found for non-human primates like rhesus monkeys. While the researchers say this might be right down to differences inability to understand the concept of the sport, other factors could be at play, including that the pigs were far-sighted, had limited dexterity, and had to stay looking down and up during the task as a result of moving the joystick with their snout.

The team suggests that touchscreens, instead of joysticks, might prove valuable in further probing the porcine cognitive capabilities. Dr. Emily Bethell, a senior lecturer in primate social cognition, behavior and welfare at Liverpool John Moores University, who wasn’t involved in the work, agreed it had been necessary to adapt experimental set-ups to the animals involved, but said the study added to what many experts already know Pigs are smart she said.