Paper Concludes Pigs Are Behaviorally, Cognitively, Emotionally Complex Individuals

With intriguing descriptions of the abilities of pigs, a new white paper concludes that “pigs are not very different from the dogs and cats we share our homes with. They may even be not very different from ourselves.”

Written by Kimmela Executive Director Lori Marino and Emory University Prof. Christina M. Colvin, the paper is entitled Thinking Pigs: Cognition, Emotion, and Personality – An Exploration of the Cognitive Complexity of Sus Domesticus, The Domestic Pig.

The authors conclude that pigs:

  • have excellent long-term memories;
  • have a sense of time, remember specific episodes in their past, and anticipate future events;
  • are whizzes with mazes and other tests requiring location of desired objects;
  • love to play and engage in mock fighting with each other, similar to play in dogs and other mammals;
  • live in complex social communities where they keep track of other individuals, both pigs and humans, and learn from one another;
  • cooperate with one another and show signs of Machiavellian intelligence such as perspective-taking and tactical deception;
  • are emotional and exhibit empathy;
  • have distinct personalities.

Dr. Marino explains that “We have shown that pigs share a number of cognitive capacities with other highly intelligent species such as dogs, chimpanzees, elephants, dolphins, and even humans. There is good scientific evidence to suggest we need to rethink our overall relationship to them.”

Based on the authors’ review paper published in the International Journal of Comparative Psychology in 2015, this is the first white paper from The Someone Project. It is published by Farm Sanctuary and available here.

Announcement and Call for Presentations


for the first



Where: Superpod5 event

Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington

When: Tuesday, July 19th, 2016

Superpod 5 is the fifth in a series of annual gatherings on San Juan Island

open to the public and attended by

an international group of scientists, filmmakers, authors, journalists, former trainers, naturalists, orca advocates.

If you are a student or young professional working on

marine mammal protection, conservation, welfare and rights by applying your education and skills in

such areas as science (biology, psychology, environmental, veterinary, etc.), business, law, photography, filmmaking, and teaching this is your opportunity to share your work with an international group of scientists, marine mammal training and care experts, and advocates.

Call for Abstracts

(Deadline June 24, 2016)

We are accepting submissions for presentations in the forms of either a poster or talk based on your work studying and advocating for marine mammals. (Note: Only noninvasive studies with marine mammals will be accepted).

Please submit a one-page abstract (with your name, email address, city and state) describing what you would like to present

along with a brief bio to:

Dr. Lori Marino

(Any questions? Contact me.)

Information about Presentation Formats

Poster: Maximum poster size: 4 X 4 feet and must include the title and your name. Materials for hanging posters will be provided. It is recommended that you provide hardcopy summaries of your poster for participants to take back home.

Talk: Duration no longer than 15 minutes. Please aim for approx. 12 minutes for your talk and 3 minutes for questions. You are encouraged to use visual aids, e.g., PowerPoint slides, videos.

More details to follow.

In Major Medical Journal, Kimmela Discusses Dolphin-Assisted Therapy

Kimmela Center executive director Dr. Lori Marino is quoted extensively in an article about animal-assisted therapies by Adrian Burton in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet Neurology.

The article, entitled “Dolphins, dogs, and robot seals for the treatment of neurological disease” asks:

A growing body of evidence suggests that animal-assisted therapies and activities involving all kinds of real and even robotic animals can have beneficial effects in people with neurological disease or mental illness. But what is the quality of that evidence, and do these interventions really provide any health benefits?

Burton notes that while there are numerous reports of animal-assisted activities and therapies being beneficial to people with neurological or mental disorders, this growing field lacks “high-quality evidence regarding the value of such therapies.”

Dolphin-assisted therapy is an especially lucrative activity that’s offered by facilities all over the world, making claims, among others,  that swimming and interacting with dolphins increases attention span, motivation, motor function, and language skills in severely disabled children, and provides similar therapeutic benefits for those with autism, epilepsy, Angelman’s syndrome, dyslexia, or Tourette’s syndrome.

But how good is the science behind these claims? Dr. Marino says most of it is of very low quality:

“Many reports in the literature are observational or, when prospective, involve very small numbers of patients or lack critical control conditions. As a result, most suffer from problems with construct validity—i.e., the inability to identify which components of the study (being in a pool, human interactions, new settings, etc.) are causally related to any observed short-term changes.

“… Most studies are plagued by major threats to construct validity such as placebo effects, novelty effects, demand characteristics, experimenter expectancy effects, [and] informant bias,” she says. “If it cannot be determined that the dolphin is an important therapeutic ingredient then there is no basis for most of the claims made by the lucrative industry that has grown up around dolphin-assisted therapy.”

Burton described the difficulties and expenses involved in constructing clinical tests that could provide valid evidence. Trudie Lang, a trials expert at Oxford University, U.K., describes a possible trial to assess whether interactions with a dog helped to reduce depression. You might, for example, recruit patients of the same age, who lived in the same kind of setting, have the same kind of depression, and are all given the same kind of dog, all trained in the same way.

“There is no basis for most of the claims made by the lucrative industry that has grown up around dolphin-assisted therapy.”

“However,” she tells Burton, “it would be difficult to apply any findings to more elderly depressives, or those given a terrier! Setting up a study with more variables would give more meaningful data—ie, it would measure real effectiveness—but would need to be vast and therefore very expensive.”

On the other hand, a pilot study in Australia that enabled elderly people with dementia to interact with a robotic baby seal, has produced some very interesting results. According to Burton, it paves the way for more such studies – perhaps “a controlled trial in which residential aged care facilities will be randomized to one of three conditions: the robotic animal, a plush toy, or the usual care.” Those studies, in turn, could pave the way for studies including real animals.

For Marino and other scientists who require convincing scientific evidence that animal assisted therapy offers more than general short-term “feel good” effects, the evidence, particularly for dolphin assisted therapy, is long overdue.

The Lancet is one of the world’s best known, oldest and most respected medical journals, founded in 1823, and editorial offices in London, New York, and Beijing.