Pig Gamers

PENN STATE COLLEGE OF AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES

READY PLAYER OINK: The pigs received food pellets for “winning” the game. Sometimes, they’d continue playing even after the food dispenser broke!

Ebony, Hamlet, Ivory, and Omelette aren’t your average gamers. They’ve got stubby snouts, curly tails, and tiny hooves. Even though pigs lack thumbs, scientists at Purdue University in Indiana were able to teach them to play a simple video game.

SONSEDSKA YULIIA/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM (PIG); VLADIMIR SUKHACHEV/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM (GAME CONTROLLER)

The researchers trained the pigs to hit targets with an on-screen cursor by moving a joystick with their snouts. Each time the pigs successfully landed a hit, they got a treat. Eventually, the pigs were able to play the game with up to 78 percent accuracy. 

Pigs are thought to be among the most intelligent animals, along with chimps, crows, dolphins, and octopuses (see Smart Suckers). Past studies have shown that pigs can solve problems and learn new tasks. The video game experiment shows that pigs can understand how actions performed on one object, like a joystick, can influence another object, like a cursor on a screen. “That is an amazing mental leap,” says Candace Croney, the scientist who led the study.

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Skills Sheets (2)
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