Scientists say sheep can tell humans apart
Published Tuesday, November 7, 2017 7:00PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 7, 2017 7:07PM EST
Ewe may not believe this, but a new study reveals sheep aren’t baaaad at recognizing human faces. In fact, they’re pretty good at it.
Researchers at the University of Cambridge have learned that sheep can recognize familiar human faces, even if that face is viewed from a different angle.
The study was conducted as part of a broader analysis of how a sheep’s brain works. “By studying how sheep learn, we can understand normal brain function and explore how this changes with disease,” researchers wrote in the study, which is published in the journal Royal Society: Open Science. They say the findings could be applicable to understanding a number of neurological disorders such as Huntington’s disease.
“Sheep are social animals that can recognize other sheep as well as familiar humans,” the researchers wrote.
The sheep involved in the study were placed in a pen with two food trays positioned below two screens on which a face could appear. The sheep were rewarded with food when they approached the screen with the face of a celebrity, and given no food when they approached the blank screen. Later, the sheep were shown two faces and rewarded with food when they approached the one they were previously taught to recognize.
Researchers found the sheep were able to recognize Barack Obama, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emma Watson or Fiona Bruce approximately 80 per cent of the time. They also recognized those faces when presented with a photo taken from a different angle, although their success rate dropped by approximately 15 per cent.
The sheep also recognized their trainer when presented with a two-dimensional image, demonstrating that they can identify faces in two or three dimensions.
“Our findings extend the understanding of face-recognition abilities of sheep and suggest that sheep possess holistic face-processing abilities,” the study authors write.
The discovery lays the groundwork for using sheep as test subjects for therapies to treat neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease, which impairs cognitive flexibility.