Sheep are about as capable of recognizing faces as monkeys or humans, University of Cambridge researchers report Tuesday in the journal Royal Society Open Science.
The BBC quoted researchers as stating that "sheep possess similar face recognition abilities to primates".
"Our study gives us another way to monitor how these abilities change, particularly in sheep who carry the gene mutation that causes Huntington's disease", she pointed out.
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In experiments in which the animals were rewarded with food for picking out portraits of Bruce, Watson and Barack Obama, sheep proved they were experts at identifying individuals. Then, during the trials, the sheep were released into a pen where they had to discern between the familiar faces and an object or an unfamiliar face.
Morton and a team trained eight sheep to recognise the famous faces from a frontal photo of each of them.
Sheep learnt to recognise Barack Obama after being shown his photo a few dozen times, said a study on November 8 which suggested our four-legged friends may be smarter than we think. "Although I didn't think sheep could recognize emotion, it made me think about face recognition as a complex brain process".
"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. In his previous studies, sheep were better at discriminating faces when they were trained on familiar individuals, like a handler or a sheep from their own flock, 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.
Morton said that future neurological research, using sheep as model organisms, could build from this study. The sheep were having two options in each step as a photo of celebrity face or another is of something else. Over time, they learn to associate a reward with the celebrity's photograph. Perhaps a test like this could help study these sheep's "cognitive decline".
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