The Nose Knows
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Some animals are able to mediate conflict between others in the same way humans do.
Italian researchers closely observed more than 100 pigs on a 13-hectare farm in northern Italy. They noticed that the animals employed some peculiar conflict resolution strategies.
When two of them fought, a bystander pig would intervene after the scuffle and try to defuse the situation through physical contact: Specifically, the mediator would touch the bickering pigs with its snout, rub either party with its ears or simply sit up against one of the opponents.
“The nose is very important for pigs, not just for communication and exploration but for social interaction,” said co-author Giada Cordoni.
Once this physical contact occurred, the research team saw that aggression or anxiety levels decreased among the warring pigs.
They noted that the third pig’s touch was unsolicited, which suggests that the swine mediator could recognize the right moment to intervene.
Cordoni’s team described this strategy as a “triadic conflict mechanism,” adding that the study marks the first time this has been observed in pigs.
The findings not only suggest that the mammal species has the cognitive ability to watch and empathize but also illustrate what Cordoni describes as pigs’ “evolutionary convergence with humans.”