Sheep can recognize Baaaa-rack Obama's face, new study shows

09 November, 2017, 01:24 | Author: Rolando Keller
  • Sheep graze in western Germany on Nov. 6

The University of Cambridge published a study on Tuesday showing that sheep can recognize faces.

The average sheep has always been judged a placid and dim-witted creature, a view epitomised by Sir Winston Churchill when he labelled Clement Attlee a "sheep in sheep's clothing".

The study trained eight sheep to recognize four celebrity faces: Jake Gyllenhaal, Barack Obama, Emma Watson, and Fiona Bruce (it was a British study).

For the initial training, the sheep received a food reward for choosing the face versus a blank screen.

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.

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Lead scientist Professor Jenny Morton says sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities comparable to those of humans and monkeys.

"Sheep are long-lived and have brains that are similar in size and complexity to those of some monkeys". Sheep now join other animals, including horses, dogs, rhesus macaques and mockingbirds, that are able to distinguish between individuals of other species. But little is known about their overall ability to process faces.

Researchers trained eight sheep to identify celebrity faces from photographs.

Next, the sheep were taken into the barn and shown two photos. Over time, they learn to associate a reward with the celebrity's photograph. 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. 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. Scientists now found that that ability can be applied to photos of famous faces, too, Sky News reported.

Researchers say this is without any prior training. By the end of this experiment, the sheep chose a familiar celebrity's face over a stranger's face about 79 percent of the time on average.

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