Study shows sheep can recognize celebrity faces

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

A University of Cambridge study found that sheep can learn to recognize human faces.

Of the roughly 1.1 billion sheep on Earth, roughly 1.1 billion have no idea who Barack Obama is. Given a choice, the sheep picked the familiar celebrity's face over an unfamiliar face the majority of the time, the researchers report November 8 in Royal Society Open Science. These sheep have learned to select the portrait of former president out of a set of pictures.

The sheep even recognized Emma Watson at a different angle. The scientists, in turn, were rewarded with better ways to measure sheep brain function.

"This face recognition task will allow us to test whether or not sheep carrying the Huntington's disease gene mutation are impaired in their ability to think and reason", Morton explained.

These woolly creatures grasped this recognition skill after going through three scenarios of training.

Morton and her colleagues released eight sheep one-by-one into a pen outfitted with two computer screens. The animal was given a cereal pellet as an award if it approached the correct image.

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A sheep correctly picking the photo of Emma Watson.

The first test was the simplest.

The sheep in the experiment have to decide which face is going to reward it with food. The second round was slightly more challenging. One was a celebrity it had seen before, and one was a photo of a non-celebrity who looked similar and had the same gender and ethnicity. "Our study gives us another way to monitor how these abilities change", Morton said.

The sheep picked the celebrity's face eight times out of 10. That's significantly better than the 50 percent rate the sheep would have shown if they were guessing haphazardly, the authors of the study pointed out.

Jonathan Peirce studying visual systems at the University of Nottingham in Britain stated that, "I'm sure it will surprise other people, but to me this is all well known". When a portrait of the handler was interspersed randomly, the sheep chose them seven out of 10 times. "This current study adds an interesting new ability to the surprising wide repertoire of behaviour of sheep".

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