Domestic pigs’ (Sus scrofa domestica) use of direct and indirect visual and auditory cues in an object choice task


Recently, foraging strategies have been linked to the ability to use indirect visual information. More selective feeders should express a higher aversion against losses compared to non-selective feeders and should therefore be more prone to avoid empty food locations. To extend these findings, in this study, we present a series of studies investigating the use of direct and indirect visual and auditory information by an omnivorous but selective feeder—the domestic pig. Subjects had to choose between two buckets, with only one containing a reward. Before making a choice, the subjects in Experiment 1 (N = 8) received full information regarding both the baited and non-baited location, either in a visual or auditory domain. In this experiment, the subjects were able to use visual but not auditory cues to infer the location of the reward spontaneously. Additionally, four individuals learned to use auditory cues after a period of training. In Experiment 2 (N = 8), the pigs were given different amounts of visual information about the content of the buckets—lifting either both of the buckets (full information), the baited bucket (direct information), the empty bucket (indirect information) or no bucket at all (no information). The subjects as a group were able to use direct and indirect visual cues. However, over the course of the experiment, the performance dropped to chance level when indirect information was provided. A final experiment (N = 3) provided preliminary results for pigs’ use of indirect auditory information to infer the location of a reward. We conclude that pigs at a very young age are able to make decisions based on indirect information in the visual domain, whereas their performance in the use of indirect auditory information warrants further investigation.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

We’re sorry, something doesn't seem to be working properly.

Please try refreshing the page. If that doesn't work, please contact support so we can address the problem.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3


  1. Albiach-Serrano A, Bräuer J, Cacchione T et al (2012a) The effect of domestication and ontogeny in swine cognition (Sus scrofa scrofa and S. s. domestica). Appl Anim Behav Sci 141:25–35

  2. Albiach-Serrano A, Bugnyar T, Call J (2012b) Apes (Gorilla gorilla, Pan paniscus, P. troglodytes, Pongo abelii) versus corvids (Corvus corax, C. corone) in a support task: the effect of pattern and functionality. J Comp Psychol 126:355–367. doi:10.1037/a0028050

  3. Bräuer J, Kaminski J, Riedel J et al (2006) Making inferences about the location of hidden food: social dog, causal ape. J Comp Psychol 120:38–47. doi:10.1037/0735-7036.120.1.38

  4. Call J (2004) Inferences about the location of food in the Great Apes (Pan paniscus, Pan troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla, and Pongo pygmaeus). J Comp Psychol 118:232–241

  5. Call J (2006) Inferences by exclusion in the great apes: the effect of age and species. Anim Cogn 9:393–403. doi:10.1007/s10071-006-0037-4

  6. Call J (2007) Apes know that hidden objects can affect the orientation of other objects. Cognition 105:1–25. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2006.08.004

  7. Cunningham HM, Friend DW, Nicholson JWG (1962) The effect of age, body weight, feed intake and adaptability of pigs on the digestibility and nutritive value of cellulose. Can J Anim Sci 42:167–175. doi:10.4141/cjas62-027

  8. Dierick NA, Vervaeke IJ, Demeyer DI, Decuypere JA (1989) Approach to the energetic importance of fibre digestion in pigs. I. Importance of fermentation in the overall energy supply. Anim Feed Sci Technol 23:141–167. doi:10.1016/0377-8401(89)90095-3

  9. Ehle FR, Jeraci JL, Robertson JB, Van Soest PJ (1982) The influence of dietary fiber on digestibility, rate of passage and gastrointestinal fermentation in pigs. J Anim Ethics 55:1071–1081

  10. Erdőhegyi Á, Topál J, Virányi Z, Miklósi Á (2007) Dog-logic: inferential reasoning in a two-way choice task and its restricted use. Anim Behav 74:725–737. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2007.03.004

  11. Held S, Baumgartner J, Kilbride A et al (2005) Foraging behaviour in domestic pigs (Sus scrofa): remembering and prioritizing food sites of different value. Anim Cogn 8:114–121. doi:10.1007/s10071-004-0242-y

  12. Hill A, Collier-Baker E, Suddendorf T (2012) Inferential reasoning by exclusion in children (Homo sapiens). J Comp Psychol 126:243–254. doi:10.1037/a0024449

  13. Kaminski J, Riedel J, Call J, Tomasello M (2005) Domestic goats, Capra hircus, follow gaze direction and use social cues in an object choice task. Anim Behav 69:11–18. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2004.05.008

  14. Maille A, Roeder J (2012) Inferences about the location of food in lemurs (Eulemur macaco and Eulemur fulvus): a comparison with apes and monkeys. Anim Cogn 15:1075–1083. doi:10.1007/s10071-012-0531-9

  15. Mikolasch S, Kotrschal K, Schloegl C (2012) Is caching the key to exclusion in corvids? The case of carrion crows (Corvus corone corone). Anim Cogn 15:73–82. doi:10.1007/s10071-011-0434-1

  16. Müller CA, Riemer S, Virányi Z et al (2014) Dogs learn to solve the support problem based on perceptual cues. Anim Cogn 17:1071–1080. doi:10.1007/s10071-014-0739-y

  17. Nawroth C, von Borell E, Langbein J (2014a) Exclusion performance in dwarf goats (Capra aegagrus hircus) and sheep (Ovis orientalis aries). PLoS One 9:e93534. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0093534

  18. Nawroth C, Ebersbach M, von Borell E (2014b) Juvenile domestic pigs (Sus scrofa domestica) use human-given cues in an object choice task. Anim Cogn 17:701–713. doi:10.1007/s10071-013-0702-3

  19. Penn DC, Povinelli DJ (2007) Causal cognition in human and nonhuman animals: a comparative, critical review. Annu Rev Psychol 58:97–118. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.58.110405.085555

  20. Plotnik JM, Shaw RC, Brubaker DL et al (2014) Thinking with their trunks: elephants use smell but not sound to locate food and exclude nonrewarding alternatives. Anim Behav 88:91–98. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2013.11.011

  21. Schloegl C (2011) What you see is what you get—reloaded: can Jackdaws (Corvus monedula) find hidden food through exclusion? J Comp Psychol 125:162–174. doi:10.1037/a0023045

  22. Schloegl C, Dierks A, Gajdon GK et al (2009) What you see is what you get? Exclusion performances in Ravens and Keas. PLoS One 4:e6368. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006368

  23. Schloegl C, Schmidt J, Boeckle M et al (2012) Grey parrots use inferential reasoning based on acoustic cues alone. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 279:4135–4142. doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.1292

  24. Shaw RC, Plotnik JM, Clayton NS (2013) Exclusion in corvids: the performance of food-caching Eurasian Jays (Garrulus glandarius). J Comp Psychol 127:428–435. doi:10.1037/a0032010

  25. Stolba A, Wood-Gush DGM (1989) The behaviour of pigs in a semi-natural environment. Anim Sci 48:419–425. doi:10.1017/S0003356100040411

  26. Taylor AH, Knaebe B, Gray RD (2012) An end to insight? New Caledonian crows can spontaneously solve problems without planning their actions. Proc R Soc B Biol Sci 279:4977–4981. doi:10.1098/rspb.2012.1998

  27. Udell MAR, Dorey NR, Wynne CDL (2008) Wolves outperform dogs in following human social cues. Anim Behav 76:1767–1773

  28. Umberto A (2007) Pigs and humans. Oxford University Press, Oxford

  29. Wenk C (2001) The role of dietary fibre in the digestive physiology of the pig. Anim Feed Sci Technol 90:21–33. doi:10.1016/S0377-8401(01)00194-8

Download references


We would like to thank Heike Stegmayr for drawing the set-up and Jan Langbein for helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. We are grateful for the comments of two anonymous reviewers which improved the manuscript significantly.

Author information

Correspondence to Christian Nawroth.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (MPG 7068 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (MPG 5982 kb)

Supplementary material 3 (MPG 3058 kb)

Supplementary material 4 (MPG 10090 kb)

Supplementary material 1 (MPG 7068 kb)

Supplementary material 2 (MPG 5982 kb)

Supplementary material 3 (MPG 3058 kb)

Supplementary material 4 (MPG 10090 kb)

Supplementary material 5 (DOCX 16 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Nawroth, C., von Borell, E. Domestic pigs’ (Sus scrofa domestica) use of direct and indirect visual and auditory cues in an object choice task. Anim Cogn 18, 757–766 (2015).

Download citation


  • Domestic pig
  • Exclusion performance
  • Object choice
  • Indirect information