A sheep. Smarter than it looks. Wolfgang Kaehler LightRocket via Getty Images
09 November, 2017, 00:53
Sheep have been trained to recognise the faces of celebrities, including former United States president Barack Obama, by University of Cambridge scientists who hope it may help with understanding neurodegenerative diseases. Given a choice, the sheep picked the familiar celebrity's face over an unfamiliar face the majority of the time, the researchers report November 8 in Royal Society Open Science. The investigators also found that the sheep could identify a picture of their handler without any training. But it's been unclear whether the skill was real recognition or simple memorization. Past research has shown that horses, dogs, and even mockingbirds can discern between individuals of other species. Celebrity profile photos were randomly paired with images of one of 62 objects, all head-sized but lacking faces.
Morton and her colleagues released eight sheep one-by-one into a pen outfitted with two computer screens.
The sheep were less successful at identifying the tilted celebrities but still performed better than chance. The sheep chose between a black screen or the celebrity face.
Initially, the sheep were trained to approach certain images by being given food rewards.
Next, researchers paired a celebrity mug, like Gyllenhaal's now-familiar face, with an unfamiliar person. When a portrait of the handler was interspersed randomly, the sheep chose them seven out of 10 times.
The research isn't just a silly test, though. In this test, sheep correctly chose the learned face eight times out of 10. And when shown pictures of their handlers without any training, the sheep did a double take then wandered over to their image. (A sheep might have had to select Emma Watson vs. a football helmet or gas lamp, for instance.) The third test pitted the sheep's celebrity targets against unfamiliar humans.
The researchers say this study of the ability of sheep to recognize faces may be useful in research into Huntington's disease and other human brain disorders that affect mental processing.
Sheep can recognize human faces in photos at a level that's comparable to humans.
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