The wonderful world of pigs
Pigs are more intelligent and trainable than dogs, cats or any other domestic animal. You may not like to hear this, but the way our brain works is very similar to the brain of pigs. The university of Georgia showed that the way braincells of pigs communicate to each other and how they form networks that are vital for touch, memory, motion and emotion are exactly the same as in the human brain.
"I" am pig
Self-awareness is the ability of animals to have a sense of themselves physically as well as awareness of their own thoughts and feelings, in other words, a sense of “I". Researchers traditionally use the mirror self-recognition (MSR). Various studies demonstrated that pigs, when put in front of a mirror, they understand that it is a reflection of themselves. For instance, in one study, seven out of eight pigs were able to quickly locate food visible only by viewing the mirror. They concluded that pigs do understand something about their own body as it is reflected in the mirror. Pigs have also been observed making repetitive movements while appearing to watch themselves in a mirror.
Pigs are fascinating
Pigs are not just intelligent; they also have an extremely good sense of smell. That’s why in some parts of Europe, pigs are used to hunt for truffles. Pigs are also amongst the cleanest animals on the planet. When given a choice, they will never excrete anywhere near their living or eating areas. Their ability to solve problems is extraordinary and there is good scientific evidence to suggest we really need to rethink our relationship with them.
Pigs have complex social lives, they are able to observe, to analise and process information to then learn from one another. Their intelligence is also shown by the fact that pigs work together.
Pigs take their play seriouslyPigs that can roam freely explore and enjoy their world through play. Play is not just for fun, it is also critical for their development. In fact, the lack of opportunity to play can lead to behavioural abnormalities. Young pigs reared in enriched environments where they can interact with objects and other pigs are more socially and cognitively developed than pigs raised in intensive farms.
Pigs also know that their actions can cause change.
In a famous study, pigs outperformed dogs in manipulating a joystick to move a cursor to hit an on-screen target. Despite the physical challenges the pigs faced when manipulating a joystick, all the pigs in the study successfully hit their targets.
Pigs perceive time
These abilities to detect the passage of time, remember specific events in one’s life, and anticipate the future allow for
very sophisticated cognitive capacities, such as possessing a sense of self through time and planning for the future. Not many animals have these capabilities, but pigs seem to have a sense of time. In one study, pigs could choose between two crates, each of which they had learned to associate with different lengths of confinement: 30 minutes versus 4 hours. The pigs showed a clear preference for being in the crates with the shorter confinement time, showing they could use their prior experiences to anticipate future situations.
In another study six pigs were required to press a lever with their hooves for a specific number of seconds to obtain a food reward. When their hooves repeatedly slipped off the lever, many of the pigs persisted by trying to use their snouts instead, showing that they understood the task and its time requirements and demonstrating impressive functional flexibility.
Pigs have a sense of the future
Pigs appear to anticipate whether positive or negative experiences might be imminent. In one study, different tones indicated whether the pigs would be able to enter in a room that contained a bowl of popcorn (a positive outcome) or be required to cross a ramp over a visual simulation of a cliff (a negative outcome). The pigs displayed fear by vocalising at high frequency when they heard the tone for the ramp. This study demonstrated that pigs respond emotionally to a future negative event.
Pigs have empathy
To have empathy is the ability to put oneself in the mental “place” of another individual and recognising that their thoughts, emotions, intentions and motivations may differ from one’s own. Pigs can do that! Dutch researchers housed pigs in 16 groups of six, and trained two of the animals in each group. These pigs were trained to anticipate wether happiness or distress by playing them music followed by either a reward (like a nice treat) or a ‘punishment’ such as keeping them in isolation in a small pen.
The untrained pigs were placed in a pen with a trained pig that was conditioned to expect happiness, or discomfort. All the pigs were then played the same music – a piece by Bach - used during the training. Some of the trained pigs showed that they understood what was going to happen to them. They either showed happy behaviours - such as tail wagging and barking - or they displayed signs of stress. For example some pigs kept their ears back, others urinated and defecated.
After the music, the trained pigs were then taken to another pen, leaving the untrained pigs behind, and were either rewarded or punished, depending on their training. The untrained pigs, which could not have known what was going to happen to the trained pigs, reacted to the trained pigs' behaviour regardless. Pigs don’t just show empathy to other pigs, but even to human beings. All they want to be is your friend.
Pigs can identify objects
Discriminating objects is the foundation for more complex mental tasks, such as categorising objects or understanding abstract concepts. Pigs are experts at distinguishing between objects. They have sophisticated abilities to distinguish objects in a range of situations that require robust memory. In one study, pigs were presented with both familiar and with new objects. After they were shown an object repeatedly over the course of two days, they remembered that object for five days or more and showed a preference for new and unfamiliar objects. In this study they clearly demonstrated that they have long-term memories.
Pigs can prioritise memories
Pigs not only remember but they also prioritise “important” memories. In food-searching tasks in which they could choose just one of two known food sources, the pigs remembered and preferred the site that had more food. They used memories of food smells and colour cues to navigate, using spatial features for reference, to a site that previously contained food.
Pigs understand symbolic language
Like other highly intelligent animals such as dolphins and chimpanzees, pigs also possess symbolic language comprehension. In one particularly intriguing study, two pigs showed they understood gestures and verbal symbols that represent objects such as a frisbee and ball, as well as actions such as sit, fetch, and jump. They didn’t just learn complex combinations of symbols for actions and objects, as in “fetch the frisbee,” but they also performed the actions asked of them.
Pigs are sophisticated, social and playful animals with feelings similar to our own. It is not just wrong, but utterly disgraceful that we make their lives and those of other animals a living hell from the day they are born, till the moment they die.