Pigs are much more intelligent than previously thought – and can even play computer games using their snout to control a joystick, a new study has claimed.
Boffins taught four pigs to play a basic video game using their snouts to steer – which showed their understanding went way beyond dumb luck.
The new study revealed that some species may have a "remarkable" level of behavioural and mental flexibility, according to experts.
All four animals were trained to approach and manipulate the joystick with their snouts in front of a computer monitor during the first phase of the experiment.
They were then taught how to play a video game in which the goal was to move a cursor using the joystick toward up to four target walls on the screen.
Researchers tested the ability of the four pigs to play the simple joystick-enabled game and each animal demonstrated some conceptual understanding, the study leaders said.
This skill was evident despite having limited dexterity on tasks normally given to primates when their intelligence is being analysed, scientists said.
The study involved two Yorkshire pigs named Hamlet and Omelette and two Panepinto micro pigs called Ebony and Ivory.
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Each pig performed the tasks well above chance, indicating the animals understood the movement of the joystick being connected to the cursor on the computer screen, scientists said.
The fact that these far-sighted animals with no opposable thumbs could succeed at the task is "remarkable", according to the researchers.
Lead author Dr Candace Croney, a professor at Purdue University and director of the Purdue Center for Animal Welfare Science, said: "It is no small feat for an animal to grasp the concept that the behaviour 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."
In the study, the team used food to teach and reinforce behaviours, but also found that social contact could strongly influence their persistence.
For example when the machine dispensing treats stopped working, the pigs continued to make correct responses using only verbal and touch signals. And only verbal encouragement seemed to help the animals during the most challenging tasks, the researchers said.
Professor Sarah Boysen, known for her work on chimpanzee cognition, co-authored the study that was published in Frontiers in Psychology.
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