Assessing learning and memory in pigs

Anim Cogn. 2011 Mar;14(2):151-73. doi: 10.1007/s10071-010-0364-3. Epub 2011 Jan 4.


In recent years, there has been a surge of interest in (mini) pigs (Sus scrofa) as species for cognitive research. A major reason for this is their physiological and anatomical similarity with humans. For example, pigs possess a well-developed, large brain. Assessment of the learning and memory functions of pigs is not only relevant to human research but also to animal welfare, given the nature of current farming practices and the demands they make on animal health and behavior. In this article, we review studies of pig cognition, focusing on the underlying processes and mechanisms, with a view to identifying. Our goal is to aid the selection of appropriate cognitive tasks for research into pig cognition. To this end, we formulated several basic criteria for pig cognition tests and then applied these criteria and knowledge about pig-specific sensorimotor abilities and behavior to evaluate the merits, drawbacks, and limitations of the different types of tests used to date. While behavioral studies using (mini) pigs have shown that this species can perform learning and memory tasks, and much has been learned about pig cognition, results have not been replicated or proven replicable because of the lack of validated, translational behavioral paradigms that are specially suited to tap specific aspects of pig cognition. We identified several promising types of tasks for use in studies of pig cognition, such as versatile spatial free-choice type tasks that allow the simultaneous measurement of several behavioral domains. The use of appropriate tasks will facilitate the collection of reliable and valid data on pig cognition.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Welfare
  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior
  • Awareness
  • Cognition
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Female
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Maze Learning
  • Memory*
  • Psychological Tests
  • Recognition, Psychology
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Swine / psychology*