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Scientists: Sheep recognize faces as people

09 November 2017

The scientists showed eight female sheep portraits of a random person and a celebrity.

The former USA president was one of four celebrities used in a test of the woolly creatures' face-recognition skills, along with Harry Potter actress Emma Watson, British TV host Fiona Bruce and American actor Jake Gyllenhaal, the research team said.

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

They did this by rewarding the sheep food when they went to the picture of one of celebrities, and not an unfamiliar face.

Picking the celebrity earned a sheep a food-pellet reward. But there are at least eight sheep who can recognize the former president by his face.

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The sheep even recognized Emma Watson at a different angle.

According to the study, this ability has been shown before only in humans. The team is studying sheep with the genetic mutation that causes the disease. 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.

The animals' success rate fell by around 15 per cent when presented with the faces at a new angle, an amount researchers said was comparable to that seen when humans perform the task.

A sheep "model" of Huntington's disease has been bred, displaying similar brain and social changes as witnessed in human patients. A celebrity's face would appear on one screen, while a different image appeared on the other. Over time, they learn to associate a reward with the celebrity's photograph. "I guess they have extended our work to show that sheep generalize viewpoints of the faces, which does require a rich representation of the identity".

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.

Scientists: Sheep recognize faces as people