Sci-tech

Scientists say sheep can recognise human faces

Scientists say sheep can recognise human faces

Then the sheep were shown two photographs: one of the celebrity and a random face.

The group of celebrities the sheep were trained to recognise included actors Emma Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal, BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce and Mr Obama.

"We've shown with our study that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys", she noted in a university news release.

The sheep eventually managed to identify the familiar face eight times out of every 10.

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. Later, they were able to recognize the images for which they had been rewarded. Researchers from Cambridge's Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience trained eight sheep to recognise the faces of four celebrities from photographic portraits displayed on computer screens.

"This ability has previously been shown only in humans", the scientists write.

"Sheep are capable of sophisticated decision making", said study author Jenny Morton, a neurobiologist at the University of Cambridge. Training involved the sheep making decisions as they moved around a specially-designed pen.

A sheep "model" of Huntington's disease has been bred, displaying similar brain and social changes as witnessed in human patients.

Researchers consider facial recognition as one of the most important human social skills. They were, of course, familiar with them, so when a photo of the coach replaced the photo of the celebrity, they have successfully chosen seven times out of ten.

The sheep's accuracy dipped to about 66 percent - "a magnitude similar to that seen when humans perform this task", the team reported in the journal Royal Society Open Science. Morton, who studies Huntington's disease, uses them as a stand-in for humans, in part because "sheep have large brains with humanlike anatomy". "I guess they have extended our work to show that sheep generalize viewpoints of the faces, which does require a rich representation of the identity". However, the ability of sheep to identify faces was unclear.