Pigs can often outsmart dogs and are on about the same intellectual level as our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, according to a new paper.

The research project, described in a paper published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology, aims to put a face on animals that are traditionally just viewed as sources of meat.

“We have shown that pigs share a number of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and even humans,” neuroscientist Lori Marino of Emory University and The Nonhuman Rights Project said in a press release. “There is good scientific evidence to suggest we need to rethink our overall relationship to them.”

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Marino and co-author Christina Colvin, also from Emory, came to that conclusion after reviewing dozens of studies conducted on pigs and other animals. Often studies on cognition and behavior focus on only a single characteristic, so the researchers in this case compiled the findings into a single document.

They found that pigs:

• have excellent long-term memories

• are whizzes with mazes and other tests requiring location of objects

• can comprehend a simple symbolic language and can learn complex combinations of symbols for actions and objects

• love to play and engage in mock fighting with each other, similar to play in dogs and other mammals

• live in complex social communities where they keep track of individuals and learn from one another

• cooperate with one another

• can manipulate a joystick to move an on-screen cursor, a capacity they share with chimpanzees

• can use a mirror to find hidden food

• exhibit a form of empathy when witnessing the same emotion in another individual

Contrast these abilities with the way that pigs are often treated in factory farms. PETA reports that mother pigs (sows) spend most of their lives in what are known as “gestation crates,” which do not even allow the pigs to turn around. Once they give birth, they are impregnated again, with the cycle continuing for three or four years before the mother is slaughtered.

PETA goes on to mention that “in extremely crowded conditions, piglets are prone to stress-related behavior such as cannibalism and tail-biting, so farmers often chop off piglets’ tails and use pliers to break off the ends of their teeth–without giving them any painkillers.”

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Marino, who is a vegan, and her colleagues have also studied chickens, finding evidence for cognitive, emotional and social complexity. Such ideas might seem laughable to some, but that’s the point — our view of these animals tends to be that they are tasty yet non-sentient beings, only good for consumption. The reality is far from that view, according to this and other studies.

The researchers further note that we tend to put pigs in a lesser category than animals like dogs and cats, even though studies show pigs are just as intelligent and empathetic — perhaps even more so — than such pets.

The scientists next plan to study other factory-farmed animals, such as cows and goats. The research is made possible by grant money from Farm Sanctuary’s The Someone Project, created to raise the public’s understanding of farm animal intelligence and behavior.

Photo: Pig. Credit: pixabay