Sheep Can Recognize Celebrity Faces in Photos

Sheep 'can recognise famous people's faces', including Baa-rack Obama

Later, they were able to recognize the images for which they had been rewarded.

"Humans do tend to underestimate the ability of sheep", Morton said by email.

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. The sheep chose between a black screen or the celebrity face.

The sheep made the correct choice of celebrity or handler roughly 70 percent of the time on average.

In subsequent tests, the sheep chose the learnt celebrity face eight times out of every ten, said the research team.

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

"We've shown with our study that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys", she noted in a university news release. When a portrait of the handler was interspersed randomly, the sheep chose them seven out of 10 times. During one set of trials, they were made to discern between their handler (whose photo they'd never seen before) and a new face. "This current study adds an interesting new ability to the surprising wide repertoire of behaviour of sheep".

Sheep join the small group of animals shown to recognize human faces, including monkeys, dogs and horses. And humans use faces for more than recognition, he wrote: "Our emotions, the open and instinctive emotions that Darwin wrote about, as well as the hidden or repressed ones that Freud wrote about, are displayed on our faces, along with our thoughts and intentions".

A sheep "model" of Huntington's disease has been bred, displaying similar brain and social changes as witnessed in human patients.

The study feeds into ongoing research on treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington's, in which face perception can be impaired. Maybe they just didn't like that the non-familiar lacked a reward, for example. Perhaps a test like this could help study these sheep's "cognitive decline".

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