Sheep can recognize human faces from photographs

09 November, 2017, 00:52 | Author: Devin Moran
  • GETTYCambridge University researchers were astonished to find that sheep have face-recognition abilities

Sheep can be trained to recognize faces of celebrities, a Cambridge University study found.

The scientists showed eight female sheep portraits of a random person and a celebrity.

The group of celebrities the sheep were trained to recognise included actors Emma Watson and Jake Gyllenhaal, BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce and Mr Obama.

"We've shown with our study that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys".

When they were tested if they could perform without the rewards, the sheep were able to recognize the celebrities faces eight out of 10 times, Sky News reported.

The sheep still recognized the celebrity portraits, even if posing at an angle, with only a 15 percent drop in accuracy. Horses, according to a study published in 2016, can also identify emotion in human facial expressions.


Morton and her team recently began research on sheep that have been genetically modified to carry the mutation for Huntington's disease.

Recognizing faces is one of the most important social skills for human beings, and some disorders of the brain, including Huntington's disease, affect this ability. However, the ability of sheep to identify faces was unclear.

Given this ability, the study authors concluded, sheep "recognize the face of a person familiar to them from a two-dimensional image". Training involved the sheep making decisions as they moved around a specially-designed pen.

"Sheep are long-lived and have brains that are similar in size and complexity to those of some monkeys".

When the handler's face was shown, sheep picked it seven out of 10 times. (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. Over time, they learn to associate a reward with the celebrity's photograph. 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.

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