Sheep can recognise human faces

A sheep. Smarter than it looks

The sheep were also able to recognize the celebrity faces when the person's head was at an angle rather than just straight on, though the scientists noted a drop in performance "of a magnitude similar to that seen when humans perform this task". The scientists, in turn, were rewarded with better ways to measure sheep brain function.

Sheep have been known to pick out pictures of individuals in their flock, and even familiar handlers (SN: 10/6/12, p. 20).

The study involved eight female Welsh Mountain sheep.

Morton's team trained eight sheep to recognize the faces of four celebrities: journalist Fiona Bruce, actors Jake Gyllenhal and Emma Watson and former U.S. President Barack Obama, Sky News reported.

The woolly critters learned to recognize human celebrities through three training scenarios. "Sheep successfully recognized the four celebrity faces from tilted images".

The sheep would nuzzle up close to their chosen screen, where they would trigger an infrared sensor releasing a treat, if they had chosen correctly. "Sheep recognise Obama from photo".

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When the handler's face was shown, sheep picked it seven out of 10 times. And you thought you were so special, human. 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".

That means the sheep were not just memorizing images, demonstrating for the first time that sheep have advanced face-recognition capabilities similar to those of humans and other primates, say neurobiologist Jennifer Morton and her colleagues.

Peirce said it was hard to say whether sheep associate photos of faces with people.

As with some other animals such as dogs and monkeys, sheep are social animals and can recognise other sheep as well as familiar humans.

Likewise, when the authors of the new study swapped celebrity photographs with those of the sheep's handlers, the farm animals needed no training. Perhaps a test like this could help study these sheep's "cognitive decline".

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