Sheep can recognize human faces from photographs

Lena Tucker
November 9, 2017

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.

Over a series of four training sessions, the sheep's ability to choose a familiar face, represented by one of the four celebrities, over a completely unfamiliar face improved.

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.

Initially, the sheep were trained to approach certain images by being given food rewards.

Face recognition is a critical social skill in humans, and we are able to identify a known person within milliseconds of seeing them. In this test, sheep correctly chose the learned face eight times out of 10.

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. "Sheep successfully recognized the four celebrity faces from tilted images".

The team got success after few days of tutelage of sheep at the Cambridge University in England, where at least 8 sheep could recognize Obama by his picture. 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. During one set of trials, they were made to discern between their handler (whose photo they'd never seen before) and a new face. Seven out of 10 times, the animals would favor the familiar faces of their handlers over the celebrities.

"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.

Other reports by AllAboutTopnews

Discuss This Article

FOLLOW OUR NEWSPAPER