Baa-rack! Sheep recognise Obama from photo

GETTYCambridge University researchers were astonished to find that sheep have face-recognition abilities

Neuroscientists from the University of Cambridge posted a report in the Royal Society Open Science journal on Tuesday asserting that sheep are capable of distinguishing faces of animals, humans, celebrities and even former President Barak Obama as well.

The study's authors first trained the sheep to recognize images of four celebrities: Barack Obama, Jake Gyllenhaal, Emma Watson and Fiona Bruce, chosen because there were lots of available images from lots of angles.

Earlier studies showed that sheep can recognize their trainers' faces and the faces of other individual sheep in their herd.

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The researchers found that sheep can recognize both familiar and unfamiliar human faces.

Picking the celebrity earned a sheep a food-pellet reward. They were able to identify the faces of celebrities at different angles (although there was a decrease in performance of about 15%), demonstrating that they are not stupid.

"This ability has previously been shown only in humans", the scientists write. The team is studying sheep with the genetic mutation that causes the disease. "That means they can be useful models to help us understand disorders of the brain - such as Huntington's disease - that develop over a long time and affect [mental] abilities", Morton said.

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Researchers consider facial recognition as one of the most important human social skills. 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.

Morton and her colleagues released eight sheep one-by-one into a pen outfitted with two computer screens. However, the ability of sheep to identify faces was unclear.

The sheep made the correct choice of celebrity or handler roughly 70 percent of the time on average. Over time, they learn to associate a reward with the celebrity's photograph.

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Neurobiology professor and study lead Jenny Morton says, "Sheep are long-lived and have brains that are similar in size and complexity to those of some monkeys". That's what scientists discovered through testing sheep by showing them celebrity portraits.

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