Pigs Are Extraordinarily Smart Biology Essay

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Pigs are emotional and sensitive creatures. This sometimes is not clear to those of us who associate the "pig" with an image of a mud-covered animal groveling out of a trough. But as it turns out, it is a fact that domestic pigs are one of the most intelligent species of animals in the world. This not only means they are emotional and sensitive, but despite stereotypes and misunderstandings to the contrary, extraordinarily smart. This true but unpopular picture of the domestic pig is presented rarely in the public conscience. The most well-known example of an intelligent pig in American pop culture is that of Babe (Noonan). Regardless of how intelligent and emotional pigs are, humans still raise them as livestock and treat them in less than humane ways. This paradox lies in contradiction with a number of assumptions we hold about the world we share with our fellow creatures (Fudge). In spite of a popular concept of a pig as a filthy, mechanical being, scientists know pigs are capable of complex emotions and thoughts.

The domestic pig belongs to the genus Sus, as classified by Carl Linnaeus in 1758. There are approximately 2 billion domestic pigs on the planet; they are remarkably social and intelligent animals. One of the first animals to be domesticated, domestic pigs can be made to perform any number of tricks and tasks. They are commonly raised for meat (or pork) as livestock and for leather. Inconsistent with popular perceptions of pigs, it is actually the case that the pig's sensory life is filled with a mass of information, requiring the animal to interpret and filter it quickly in order to deal with the world. Quite acute, the pig's sensory inputs include highly adept senses of sound, sight, touch, olfaction, and taste. Despite having a relatively poor sense of sound, pigs use verbal communications in a quite advanced way. Auditory signals and vocalizations convey complex sets of information between pigs, such as the sender's identity (Held, Cooper and Mendl 48). For example, piglets recognize the grunts of their own mother. Like their sense of sound, pigs do not have a particularly strong sense of vision. Poor visual acuity and color discrimination in pigs suggest vision is only a secondary sense as the pig seeks out food.

The domestic pig's sense of touch is far more acute than either its sense of sound or sight. Pain, by definition, functions to bring attention to specific areas of tissue damage to protect an area of damage. There is a difference between short- and long-term pains; the former lasts a few hours or days and does not outlast the healing process (Sneddon and Gentle); the latter occur over the long-term for weeks to months beyond the expected healing time. The sense of pain in pigs is known to be quite advanced, making it capable of both short- and long-term pain states. The pig's snout hosts senses representing the adaptation to their lifestyle, including the olfactory sense and the sense of taste. Pigs have highly acute senses tied to smell and taste, which serves both an evolutionary and social role in the life of a domestic pig. For example, pigs often engage in nose to nose and nose to genital contact during typical social interaction and aggressive interaction. This all has to do with the release of chemicals known as pheromones, which stimulate emotional states in pigs. These emotions run the gamut from mating requests, social recognition, and aggressive responses.

There are certainly a number of problems associated with studying emotions in not only non-human animals but in humans too. Emotions are experienced as intensive subjective, irrational feelings. While easier to describe in human beings from rational learning and advanced cognition, emotions are still not precisely measurable from a physiological perspective. Emotional states like fear and pleasure make clear effects on animal behavior and welfare, and whole it is recognized that a deeper understanding of animal emotion is important for animal welfare and production, it is unclear how to study those things (Held, Cooper and Mendl 73). Pigs, in particular, are obviously capable of responding to a broad range of sensory information. To deny that pigs are sensitive to a wide range of stimuli clearly ignores the facts as determined by scientists. The only question left to ask once this one has been answered is whether the detail that pigs are as sensitive as a young child is reason enough to not cause unnecessary pain to the animal, such as the castration of male piglets, tail docking, and teeth clipping. These processes, despite being extraordinarily painful to an animal with an advanced sensory system, are industry standards in maintaining an efficient livestock production process.

After unimpaired functioning of an advanced sensory system is the "first step in the pig's cognitive processing allowing it to interact appropriately with its environment" (Held, Cooper and Mendl 53). Pigs, like other animals, are capable of learning about their environment in a number of ways, including (a) associating aspects of the environment with reward or punishment, (b) habituating to stimuli without personal consequence, (c) associating their own actions with reward or punishment, and (d) social learning. In studies, pigs are common subjects of operant conditioning tests, which sharpen the pig's knowledge of food, spatial memory, and discrimination between humans. To this last point, pigs can learn to discriminate between different humans based on their interactions with them through olfactory, visual, and auditory cues to one message. And not only are pigs capable of advanced memory and learning, they are also extremely social creatures, which implies they are both sensitive and emotional. In fact, research indicates that the domestic pig can distinguish different individuals primarily through olfactory cues. Nevertheless, evidence is unclear as to whether they are able to remember these different individuals after separation. Pigs are, to some extent, capable of determining another's relative strength before fighting.

A number of claims and statistics are made available all throughout the internet about the relative intelligence of pigs as compared with other farm animals and even with human children. Although not all of these claims are true, a number of common ones do contain an ounce of truth. Of course, it is a tricky issue how to measure intelligence in animals. Even human animals may be intelligent or unintelligent in amazing ways, such as in the arts or in the sciences. And while connotations of the word "pigs" are not always positive, pigs are as intelligent as chimpanzees, as measured by the quickness with which they remembered shapes and scribbles. Because pigs are capable of abstract representation, the claim that pigs are more intelligent than dogs is also true. According to biologist Stanley Curtis, "[Pigs] can hold an icon in their mind, and remember it at a later date" (McLaughlin). While the possibility of pigs being smarter than chimpanzees or dogs is not counterintuitive on its face, other tests also indicate that, in terms of linguistic competence, pigs are more intelligent than an average three-year-old human child. Pigs were taught the meaning of simple words and, three years later, they amazingly remembered the lesson they were previously taught. From this study in particular, scientists revealed that pigs lead complex social lives, have a good sense of direction, excel at video games, learn from watching each other, and actually dream (McLaughlin). All of these complex mental activities indicate that pigs are not only emotional and sensitive, but also generally intelligent compared to a vast majority of all animal species.

The study of animal behavioral patterns in their natural habitat is known as ethology. Research in this field focuses on objective categories of behavior and psychology and the analysis of phenomena within these categories, which are described as "emotional behaviors", such as heart rate responses, saliva cortisol response, and so on. "Animal welfare" is what arises from subjective categories regarding the emotional behaviors of animals (Jonge 111). The transition from ethological research to animal welfare requires first, a translation of emotional behaviors (physical responses) into emotions (subjective experiences); that is, is a high level of cortisol response equivalent to elevated subjective levels of stress in the pig's mind. Second, going to animal welfare requires the transition from emotion to animal welfare. Both of these transitions require the input of scientists, and it is unclear whether animal welfare can be achieved simply by conceptualizing pigs as emotional and sensitive. The more relevant question is how similar a pig's intellectual life is to a human's. In fact, pigs are a good animal to use for demonstration of how ethological research contributes to the literature on animal welfare. In early development, pigs raised under poor conditions exhibit diminished sociability and greater susceptibility to stress. This is similar to the results of studies of human beings in development.

As for many species of common animals, finding a study investigating the kind and extent of emotions in pigs is difficult. It is another challenge creating the methods for investigating the behavioral priorities and cognitive development of pigs or to apply such a method for analysis to an older pig. Ethologically, the study of pig behaviors and emotions focuses on the sensory faculties, cognitive abilities, and behavioral priorities in domestic pigs that, under natural conditions, would allow their ancestors to survive and reproduce. A primary challenge for achieving animal welfare-the welfare of pigs being produced for human use-is adapting the pig's natural abilities to this environment. That is, providing an in-depth understanding of the behavioral priorities and emotions of pigs is centrally important to improving their welfare in production, if that is made a priority by society and the scientists they employ to discover more about the inner lives of domestic pigs.

Pigs are, quite clearly, emotional and sensitive creatures, and to deny such a fact is to deny scientific facts saying otherwise. Pigs are obviously capable of many kinds of learning; they are very social, intelligent, and sensible animals. That said, for many, the debate over whether the easing of suffering of pigs is morally right or not is a matter of values and a notion of "animal welfare". Animal welfare is the subjective categories with which we evaluate an animal's emotions, in contrast to the ethological study of an animal's objective emotional behaviors, which can actually be measured and quantified. However, it is difficult to study emotions in pigs and in all animals, humans included. There is a difficulty in equating the emotional behaviors of an animal with its actual subjective experience of emotions.