Pigs can play video-game (snout-based joystick)
I came across this stunning research project:
Animal scientist Stan Curtis and graduate student Candace Croney have embarked on a unique research project that uses video games to gauge the mental abilities of pigs. (...) to learn more about how pigs perceive the world by using video games to measure their cognitive ability
We're now sure that pigs can play computer games. In this experiment, the animals use their snouts to move joysticks, to hit targets on a computer screen with a cursor.
Croney hopes to quantify the cognitive level of pigs by encouraging them to do something that many parents wish their children wouldn't do so often–play video games. However, the pigs won't be playing arcade favorites like Mario World or Mortal Kombat, at least not at first. "We start with a very simple task," Croney says. "The computer screen has a series of different icons, or shapes, on one side and a single shape on the other. First, we try to get the pig to move the single shape across the screen to touch the one that matches it. Once the pig accomplishes that, we move on to more complex tasks. Pigs are known to be smart animals, and we expect them to do more than recognize symbols. Our tests are similar to many used in child cognitive psychology. They'll give us an idea of how advanced pigs are in mental development."
When it's time for a pig to play a game, the researchers position the computer monitor so that the pig can easily see it while it manipulates a joystick with its snout. "As video game enthusiasts can tell you, some joysticks aren't very durable," Croney says. "They couldn't withstand the strength of a pig. That created an unusual challenge–just how do you modify a joystick for a pig? We came up with a design that encased the shaft of a standard joystick in a steel handle, then added a device like a gearshift knob to the top of the joystick to help the pig control it."
As in many games, there are rewards:
The research team, which includes several undergraduates in animal bioscience, also had to design a special food delivery system. "Food is used as a reward to motivate the pigs to play the game," says Croney. "When the pigs correctly move the object on the screen, a bell rings, telling the pig that it's about to get a reward. Then a treat drops through a tube right into the pig's cup." The researchers also have installed a videotape system to record each experiment from four angles, which can be played back on screen simultaneously. "The videotapes help us carefully analyze the pigs' behavior while they are using the joysticks," Croney says.
I would be delighted to have a glance at the coding scheme they use to do the qualitative analysis of the participants' behavior!