Pigs mediate barnyard fights with a light touch of the snout, study says

Pigs mediate barnyard fights with a light touch of the snout, study says

When a fight becomes particularly thorny and drawn out, sometimes it takes the involvement of an empathetic, calming third party to lower the temperature in the room.

Or, it turns out, the farm.

New research suggests that pigs — like many humans — are smart enough to recognize a conflict between others and defuse the situation.

According to a study published Tuesday, the hoofed mammals appear to have the cognitive ability to watch and empathize when two other pigs fight — and then intervene afterward to reduce the levels of aggression or anxiety — a form of social regulation that can benefit the wider group.

The study observed that bystander pigs sometimes intervene after a conflict by approaching one of the warring parties and initiating physical contact, by applying the calming touch of their snouts, rubbing either of the parties with their ears or simply sitting up against one of the opponents. Occasionally, a pig also placed its entire head over the body one of the combatants, which was also effective.

“Pigs are highly social, and they have a very complex and high cognitive capacity to recognize familiar individuals,” Giada Cordoni, one of the study’s authors at the University of Turin, told The Washington Post.

When a victim is contacted after a fight, its anxiety levels drop, while aggressors that are approached are less likely to attack the victim — or other members of the group — again.

Cordoni describes this resolution strategy involving a third pig as a “triadic conflict mechanism.” The study marks the first time it has been observed in the species — having previously been identified only in humans, wolves, primates and birds. It also illustrates what she describes as pigs’ “evolutionary convergence with humans.”

Louisa Weinstein, a conflict mediation specialist who works with humans, agrees.

Read the complete article here.

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