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STUDY: How pigs resolve conflicts, according to science

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The pigs in the study seemed to show quite a bit of emotional intuition. Bystander pigs weren’t just aware that a conflict had taken place but even knew when it was appropriate to intervene with the aggressor or the victim.

TOVE DANOVICH: As anyone who has ever been on a team or a tight friend group knows, an unresolved conflict can tear a group apart. Sometimes it can be easier for a third party to step in to keep the peace and calm everyone down. Humans do this but studies have also shown the behavior in wolves, primates and birds.

A new study published in Animal Cognition this month finds that pigs too adopt a strategy of “triadic contact” to resolve conflicts within their groups. First study author, Giada Cordoni at the University of Turin wrote in an email that they were surprised to see a “consolatory effect” in the pigs they studied.

When a third-party pig approached an aggressor-pig, for example, the aggressor was less likely to attack again. Contact with the victim also seemed to reduce that pig’s anxiety, and even potentially offer them protection in future interactions.

To research conflict management in pigs, the authors spent six months watching a group of 104 pigs on a farm that allows animals to live in semi-natural conditions. Every time the researchers noted aggressive behavior — which in pigs could look like pushing, biting or lifting the victim — they spent the next three minutes observing the pigs to see how they resolved their conflicts. In some cases, conflicts resolved on their own, but in others, bystander pigs intervened, especially in situations involving a pig they were closely related to…

Most farmed pigs reared in industrial agriculture are grouped together in confinement in ways that look nothing like the ways in which their wild counterparts socialize. That could lead to conflict… Wild pigs tend to hang out in groups of 2-4 adults with a smattering of young pigs ranging in age, notes a report on the pig industry by the Humane Society of the United States. Factory farm holding pens, on the other hand, sometimes contain up to 30 animals, with entire barns filled with so many of these pens that there can be hundreds of animals in each…

Sébastien Goumon, who studies animal behavior at ETH Zurich, noted in an email, “Welfare does not only mean reducing experiences associated with negative emotion states but also promoting experiences associated with positive emotional states”…

The pigs in the study seemed to show quite a bit of emotional intuition. Bystander pigs weren’t just aware that a conflict had taken place but even knew when it was appropriate to intervene with the aggressor or the victim. This and the fact that their approach depended on their genetic relationship to the pigs points toward these animals having complex cognitive abilities, socio-emotional regulation and social appraisal, the authors note in the study. SOURCE…

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