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Sheep can recognize human faces from photographs

Sheep can recognize human faces from photographs

By training sheep using pictures of these celebrities, researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered that the animals are able to recognize familiar faces from 2-D images.

The study's authors first trained the sheep to recognize images of four celebrities: Barack Obama, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emma Watson and Fiona Bruce, chosen because there were lots of available images from lots of angles.

"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.

The sheep in the experiment have to decide which face is going to reward it with food.

The sheep still recognized the celebrity portraits, even if posing at an angle, with only a 15 percent drop in accuracy. "Our study gives us another way to monitor how these abilities change", Morton said.




Morton and her team are now studying sheep that have been genetically modified to carry the gene mutation that causes Huntington's disease. Since the handler cares for the sheep daily, the animals were familiar with her - although they had never seen a 2-D photo of her face. The results were published Wednesday in the Royal Society's Open Science journal as part of research looking into cognitive ability and neurodegenerative disorders, like Huntington's disease, which can impair people's ability to recognize facial emotion.

"My 2001 paper looked very carefully at this with a wider range of stimuli, more sheep and more conditions", he said.

Face recognition is a critical social skill in humans, and we are able to identify a known person within milliseconds of seeing them. That's what scientists discovered through testing sheep by showing them celebrity portraits. Over time, they learn to associate a reward with the celebrity's photograph.

Sheep, on average, chose the celebrity faces correctly in 8 out of 10 trials.

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.

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