Study shows sheep can recognize celebrity faces

GETTYCambridge University researchers were astonished to find that sheep have face-recognition abilities

Sheep can be trained to recognise human faces from photographic portraits - and can even identify the picture of their handler without prior training.

They then challenged the animals again, this time by showing them a picture of the same celebrity, but using a new photo of their face tilted at an angle. Those celebrities were journalist Fiona Bruce, actor Jake Gyllenhaal, former US President Barack Obama and actress Emma Watson.

Sheep learnt to recognise Barack Obama after being shown his photo a few dozen times, said a study on November 8 which suggested our four-legged friends may be smarter than we think.

The researchers published their findings today in the Royal Society Open Science journal with the title "Sheep recognize familiar and unfamiliar human faces from two-dimensional images".

The sheep in the experiment have to decide which face is going to reward it with food. They were able to identify the faces of celebrities at different angles (although there was a decrease in performance of about 15%), demonstrating that they are not stupid.

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"Sheep are capable of sophisticated decision making", said study author Jenny Morton, a neurobiologist at the University of Cambridge.

In addition, they also say the study could help in the research into Huntington's disease, as well as other human brain disorders that affect mental processing.

In a separate test, researchers wanted to see if the sheep would recognize human trainers they already know without any training like they underwent in the pen with the celebrity faces.

Morton and her colleagues released eight sheep one-by-one into a pen outfitted with two computer screens. Seven out of 10 times, the animals would favor the familiar faces of their handlers over the celebrities. (A sheep might have had to select Emma Watson vs. a football helmet or gas lamp, for instance.) The third test pitted the sheep's celebrity targets against unfamiliar humans.

A sheep "model" of Huntington's disease has been bred, displaying similar brain and social changes as witnessed in human patients. "I guess they have extended our work to show that sheep generalize viewpoints of the faces, which does require a rich representation of the identity".

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