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Study shows sheep can recognize celebrity faces

09 November 2017

"We've shown with our study that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys".

Next, the sheep were taken into the barn and shown two photos. On one side would be an unknown person and on the other would be one of four celebrities.

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

The sheep eventually managed to identify the familiar face eight times out of every 10.

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"We chose these people because there were lots of images of each person available on line, both front-on and taken at different angles", study co-author Jennifer Morton of the University of Cambridge told AFP.

Initially, the sheep were trained to approach certain images by being given food rewards.

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. The photo recognition experiment gives scientists a way to track changes in the cognitive abilities of sheep with a gene mutation that causes Huntington's disease, an incurable neurodegenerative disease.

In a final test, the sheep had to choose between a picture of one of their handlers' faces and an unfamiliar face.

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The sheep picked the celebrity's face eight times out of 10.

The sheep's accuracy dipped to about 66 percent - "a magnitude similar to that seen when humans perform this task", the team reported in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

In addition, they also say the study could help in the research into Huntington's disease, as well as other human brain disorders that affect mental processing.

The woolly creatures could reliably pick out their human handlers without any previous photographic training at all, showing they can spot a familiar face.

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According to the study, this ability has been shown before only in humans.

Study shows sheep can recognize celebrity faces