A University of Cambridge study found that sheep can learn to recognize human faces. After training the sheep again showed two images - a person studied celebrities and the unknown person - and eight times out of ten they came to the celebrities with all the enthusiasm.
Initially, the sheep were trained to approach certain images by being given food rewards.
The Cambridge congregation included eight Welsh Mountain female sheep that learned successfully four different faces of celebrities, during the experiment.
According to the study, this ability has been shown before only in humans.
Morton and her team recently began research on sheep that have been genetically modified to carry the mutation for Huntington's disease. 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. 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.
The sheep were less successful at identifying the tilted celebrities but still performed better than chance. "Although I didn't think sheep could recognize emotion, it made me think about face recognition as a complex brain process".
The ability to recognise faces is one of the most important human social skills.
"Anyone who has spent time working with sheep will know that they are intelligent, individual animals who are able to recognize their handlers", said study leader Jenny Morton. Training involved the sheep making decisions as they moved around a specially-designed pen. 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. Maybe they just didn't like that the non-familiar lacked a reward, for example. When a portrait of the handler was interspersed randomly, the sheep chose them seven out of 10 times.