Time to load up Ham Theft Auto: new research indicates pigs possess the mental capacity to play video games.


The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, tested the ability of four hogs (Hamlet, Omelette, Ebony and Ivory) to play a simple joystick game with their snouts, moving a cursor to four targets on the screen. Although the animals didn't demonstrate the dexterity to win a round of Fortnite any time soon, they did show a conceptual understanding of this rudimental game.

Performing well above chance, the pigs appeared to recognise the movement of the cursor was controlled by the joystick. The fact they did so well despite a lack of opposable thumbs is “remarkable”, say researchers.

"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," said Purdue University's Dr Candace Croney, the study’s lead author.

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Researchers also noted that while the pigs could be taught to play the game using food as positive reinforcement, they also responded well to social cues. In fact, when the game was made more challenging and the pigs became reluctant to engage, “only verbal encouragement by the experimenter” would see training resume.

These findings are the latest to highlight the intelligence of pigs. Not only have they been shown to use mirrors to find hidden food in an enclosure, but studies have also demonstrated how hogs can be taught like dogs to "come" and "sit" after verbal commands.

“As with any sentient beings, how we interact with pigs and what we do to them impacts and matters to them," Croney said.


“We therefore have an ethical obligation to understand how pigs acquire information, and what they are capable of learning and remembering, because it ultimately has implications for how they perceive their interactions with us and their environments."


Thomas Ling
Thomas LingDigital Editor, BBC Science Focus

Thomas is a Staff Writer at BBC Science Focus and looks after all things Q&A. Writing about everything from cosmology to anthropology, he specialises in the latest psychology and neuroscience discoveries. Thomas has a Masters degree (distinction) in Magazine Journalism from the University of Sheffield and has written for Men’s Health, Vice and Radio Times. He has been shortlisted as the New Digital Talent of the Year at the national magazine Professional Publishers Association (PPA) awards.