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Scientists: Sheep recognize faces as people

A sheep. Smarter than it looks

The University of Cambridge published a study on Tuesday showing that sheep can recognize faces. The sheep were having two options in each step as a photo of celebrity face or another is of something else. The Cambridge flock, eight female Welsh Mountain sheep, successfully learned the faces of four celebrities in a recent experiment: Obama, British newscaster Fiona Bruce and actors Emma Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Sheep are social animals and can recognise other sheep as well as familiar humans.

Tapping on the "correct" portrait would reward the sheep with food while choosing the wrong face would result in no food and a sound being played.

In addition to being shown images of the celebrities facing forward, scientists also tested the animals' ability to recognise the faces in photographs taken from other angles.

"Humans do tend to underestimate the ability of sheep", Morton said by email. The team is studying sheep with the genetic mutation that causes the disease. Training involved the sheep making decisions as they moved around a specially-designed pen. Since the handler cares for the sheep daily, the animals were familiar with her - although they had never seen a 2-D photo of her face. When a portrait of the handler was interspersed randomly, the sheep chose them seven out of 10 times.

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.

Face recognition is a critical social skill in humans, and we are able to identify a known person within milliseconds of seeing them.

Morton is using sheep as models for studying human brain disorders.

"Sheep are long-lived and have brains that are similar in size and complexity to those of some monkeys".

"Anyone who has spent time working with sheep will know that they are intelligent, individual animals who are able to recognize their handlers", said Professor Jenny Morton, who led the Cambridge study. Over time, they learn to associate a reward with the celebrity's photograph.