"Together these data show that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and non-human primates".
During the training period at the University of Cambridge, the animals learned to recognize celebrities in forward-facing photos.
The farm animals, who are social and have large brains, were previously known to be able to recognize one another, as well as familiar humans. "My guess is that the ability of sheep to recognize human faces is a by-product of selection to discriminate between different sheep faces", he says.
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. Sheep can recognise human faces, spot the facial features of their handlers, and can even distinguish newsreader Fiona Bruce from actress Emma Watson.
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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. 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. Scientists now found that that ability can be applied to photos of famous faces, too, Sky News reported.
"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. In each step, the sheep were presented with two options: a photo of the celebrity facing forward for the camera, or a photo of something else. A celebrity's face would appear on one screen, while a different image appeared on the other.
"Sheep are long-lived and have brains that are similar in size and complexity to those of some monkeys". By the end of this experiment, the sheep chose a familiar celebrity's face over a stranger's face about 79 percent of the time on average. "But the evidence is compelling", Morton said. Perhaps a test like this could help study these sheep's "cognitive decline".