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Study shows sheep recognise human faces

09 November 2017

Recognizing a person that is familiar from 3-D life requires "complex image processing", the authors say, because the sheep must translate their memory of the person to a 2-D picture.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge trained eight sheep to recognize the faces of four celebrities from photos shown on a computer screen.

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

Recognizing human faces is a skill you may take for granted-but you're also a human.

In subsequent tests, the sheep chose the learnt celebrity face eight times out of every ten, said the research team.

"Humans do tend to underestimate the ability of sheep", Morton said by email.

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Many other animals are known to recognise the faces among their own species, while some - including macaques, horses, dogs, mockingbirds, and sheep - can identify individuals from other species too. Celebrity profile photos were randomly paired with images of one of 62 objects, all head-sized but lacking faces.

A sheep "model" of Huntington's disease has been bred, displaying similar brain and social changes as witnessed in human patients. If they chose the wrong photograph, a buzzer would sound and they would receive no reward.

Results said that the sheep were able to spot the right face on more than one occasions. After training, the sheep were shown two photographs - the celebrity's face and another face. In these initial tests, the sheep were shown the faces from the front, but to test how well they recognised the faces, the researchers next showed them the faces at an angle. The sheep didn't do as well but still passed, recognizing the celebrities about 68 percent of the time - a drop in performance comparable to that seen in humans performing the same task.

Finally, the researchers looked at whether sheep were able to recognise a handler without pre-training.

When the handler's face was shown, sheep picked it seven out of 10 times.

Study shows sheep recognise human faces