Sheep can recognize people's faces from photographs

A sheep. Smarter than it looks

The sheep were having two options in each step as a photo of celebrity face or another is of something else.

The group of celebrities the sheep were trained to recognise included actors Emma Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal, BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce and Mr Obama.

Humans and monkeys can now extend a warm welcome to sheep for joining us in being able to recognize human faces from photographs.

The sheep eventually managed to identify the familiar face eight times out of every 10. The sheep didn't do as well but still passed, recognizing the celebrities about 68 percent of the time - a drop in performance comparable to that seen in humans performing the same task.

In fact, they could even recognise people when pictures were altered or were taken from a different angle, an ability only previously recorded in humans and primates. "Although I didn't think sheep could recognize emotion, it made me think about face recognition as a complex brain process".

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The team got success after few days of tutelage of sheep at the Cambridge University in England, where at least 8 sheep could recognize Obama by his picture. Training involved the sheep making decisions as they moved around a specially-designed pen.

As with some other animals such as dogs and monkeys, sheep are social animals and can recognise other sheep as well as familiar humans. When a portrait of the handler was interspersed randomly, the sheep chose them seven out of 10 times. "Either the human face is similar enough to the sheep face that [it] activates the sheep face-processing system, or human-face recognition relies on more general-purpose recognition systems".

Neurobiology professor and study lead Jenny Morton says, "Sheep are long-lived and have brains that are similar in size and complexity to those of some monkeys".

Likewise, when the authors of the new study swapped celebrity photographs with those of the sheep's handlers, the farm animals needed no training. That's what scientists discovered through testing sheep by showing them celebrity portraits.

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