Study shows sheep can recognize celebrity faces

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

Scientists would show each sheep two faces, one of which was the target celebrity, Sky News reported.

Scientists say the study could help advance research of Huntington's disease, which causes humans to lose their ability to recognize faces, Sky News reported.

In experiments in which the animals were rewarded with food for picking out portraits of Bruce, Watson and Barack Obama, sheep proved they were experts at identifying individuals. The sheep could even recognize images of faces shown at an angle, though their ability to do so declined by about 15 percent - the same rate at which a human's ability to perform the same task declines.

According to the study, this ability has been shown before only in humans.

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"Sheep are capable of sophisticated decision making", said study author Jenny Morton, a neurobiologist at the University of Cambridge.

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

Jake Gyllenhaal, seen here with an animal that is not a sheep. Then, during the trials, the sheep were released into a pen where they had to discern between the familiar faces and an object or an unfamiliar face. That's what scientists discovered through testing sheep by showing them celebrity portraits. However, the ability of sheep to identify faces was unclear. "Either the human face is similar enough to the sheep face that [it] activates the sheep face-processing system, or human-face recognition relies on more general-purpose recognition systems".

In a separate test, researchers wanted to see if the sheep would recognize human trainers they already know without any training like they underwent in the pen with the celebrity faces. Over time, they learn to associate a reward with the celebrity's photograph. 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.