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09 November 2017, 12:54 | Bernard Bryant
GETTYCambridge University researchers were astonished to find that sheep have face-recognition abilities
Neuroscientists from the University of Cambridge posted a report in the Royal Society Open Science journal on Tuesday asserting that sheep are capable of distinguishing faces of animals, humans, celebrities and even former President Barak Obama as well.
They then challenged the animals again, this time by showing them a picture of the same celebrity, but using a new photo of their face tilted at an angle.
The former United States 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".
It had been known that sheep can recognize familiar faces of other sheep and of humans.
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.
Researchers trained eight sheep to identify celebrity faces from photographs.
"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. "That means they can be useful models to help us understand disorders of the brain - such as Huntington's disease - that develop over a long time and affect [mental] abilities", Morton said.
The ability to recognise faces is one of the most important human social skills.
The sheep were less successful at identifying the tilted celebrities but still performed better than chance. The sheep chose the right face eight out of 10 times. Training involved the sheep making decisions as they moved around a specially-designed pen. Maybe they just didn't like that the non-familiar lacked a reward, for example.
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.
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