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Pigs are Prone to Plotting and More Ways They’re Just Like Us

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New Scientific White Paper Concludes that Pigs Are Behaviorally, Cognitively and Emotionally Complex Individuals


Get ready to look at pigs in a whole new way. According to a new white paper released this past week (July 13, 2016) by Farm Sanctuary’s The Someone Project, pigs prepare for the future, perform as well or better than dogs on some tests of behavioral and cognitive sophistication, and compare favorably to dogs and chimpanzees, a beloved companion animal species and humans' closest genetic relatives, on many other tasks.



Photo credit: © Jo-Anne McArthur of weanimals.org


The paper, Thinking Pigs: Cognition, Emotion, and Personality - An Exploration of the Cognitive Complexity of Sus Domesticus, The Domestic Pig, written by neuroscientist Dr. Lori Marino and Emory University Prof. Christina M. Colvin, reviews pigs’ full range of abilities by detailing dozens of studies and extrapolating from those results to determine what we do and do not know about pigs. The areas examined by the article include cognition, emotion, self-awareness, personality and social complexity.


With intriguing examples based on a review of the complete scientific literature to date, Dr. Marino and Prof. Colvin conclude that “pigs are not very different from the dogs and cats we share our homes with. They may even be not very different from ourselves.” For example, pigs:

  • have excellent long-term memories;
  • have a sense of time, remember specific episodes in their past, and anticipate future events;
  • are whizzes with mazes and other tests requiring location of desired objects;
  • understand symbolic language;
  • 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 other individuals, both pigs and humans, and learn from one another;
  • cooperate with one another and show signs of Machiavellian intelligence such as perspective-taking and tactical deception;
  • can manipulate a joystick to move an on-screen cursor, a capacity they share with chimpanzees;
  • show the potential for self-recognition and self-agency in their ability to use a mirror to find hidden food;
  • are emotional and exhibit empathy;
  • have distinct personalities.



Photo credit: © Jo-Anne McArthur of weanimals.org


Dr. Marino explains that “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. There is good scientific evidence to suggest we need to rethink our overall relationship to them.” 

Dr. Marino is Executive Director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy and provided the scientific support for the lawsuits of the Nonhuman Rights Project, support central to its argument that chimpanzees be recognized as "legal persons." In the blockbuster documentary Blackfish, Dr. Marino explained the neural underpinnings of cetacean intelligence and why orcas and other cetaceans cannot thrive in captivity.

This is the first white paper produced with grant money from Farm Sanctuary’s The Someone Project, an endeavor aimed at raising the public’s understanding of farm animal cognition and behavior.


Founded in 1986, Farm Sanctuary works to change how our society views and treats farm animals through rescue, education and advocacy. The organization provides lifelong care for animals rescued from abuse at four sanctuary locations in New York, California and New Jersey; promotes compassionate vegan living; and advocates legal and policy reforms. To learn more about Farm Sanctuary, visit farmsanctuary.org.

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Lisa Taron (Pet Blog Lady)

It really is incredible what they found in their research. The Someone Project overall is mind-awakening.

Jody Miller-Young

Thanks for putting this out there, Lisa. More people need to be educated on this. Sharing. :-)


I have a friend who keeps a pet pig and it is incredible how smart that pig is. Makes me want to give up bacon.

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