"We've shown with our study that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys".
Over a series of four training sessions, the sheep's ability to choose a familiar face, represented by one of the four celebrities, over a completely unfamiliar face improved. Out of the all the shown photos, the sheep chose celebrities Jake Gyllenhaal, Barack Obama, Emma Watson, and United Kingdom television journalist Fiona Bruce.
The new study which was published in Royal Society Open Science, concludes that sheep are smart enough to identify humans and nonhuman primates by face.
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 would nuzzle up close to their chosen screen, where they would trigger an infrared sensor releasing a treat, if they had chosen correctly.
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In a final test, the sheep had to choose between a picture of one of their handlers' faces and an unfamiliar face. Later, they were able to recognize the images for which they had been rewarded. Researchers from Cambridge's Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience trained eight sheep to recognise the faces of four celebrities from photographic portraits displayed on computer screens. The sheep chose the right face eight out of 10 times.
The new evidence suggests that sheep can process information about a human face without requiring a 3-D "real person", said Morton.
To challenge the sheep even further, scientists showed them the same celebrities in photos captured from a different, tilted angle.
"This face recognition task will allow us to test whether or not sheep carrying the Huntington's disease gene mutation are impaired in their ability to think and reason", Morton explained.
"This ability has previously been shown only in humans", the scientists write.