Domestic pigs can remember a cognitive task after six weeks
Kristina Kull, PhD student at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna (BOKU) in Austria, was one of the two winners of the Best Student Presentation Awards at the 2021 regional ISAE conference, with her well-presented talk on cognitive abilities of pigs. Below you can find more information about her study, including an illustrative video clip.
We trained twenty-six 2-month old pigs on a cognitive time perception task (see a video clip of training here: https://youtu.be/2v-VdqGR8uk). The pigs had to learn to discriminate short (1 s) and long (8 s) tones and reach a learning criterion of ≥80% correct choices in two consecutive sessions. Each session had 40 trials. A subgroup of these pigs (N=7) were re-tested on the same task after six weeks, without any training during these weeks.
Five out of seven pigs remembered the task after six weeks (sessions to criterion: 1.6±0.9, mean±sd). Impressively, three pigs performed to criterion already on the first re-testing session. Older pigs (around 3.5-4 months of age) were not always motivated to take part in the task. However, they can be kept more motivated by increasing quality or quantity of food rewards, lowering the temperature of test arena and by including a social reward such as a pleasant snout-scratch.
These findings indicate that pigs can remember cognitive tasks after six weeks, making them a suitable species for long-term studies. Additionally, such cognitive abilities should be considered to better the farming practices of domestic pigs. The study will be continued by the researchers in the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna to investigate boredom in farmed pigs.