Face it: Sheep are similar to us on the subject of recognizing individuals


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Emma Watson, Jake Gyllenhaal, journalist Fiona Bruce and Barack Obama all stroll right into a sheep pen. No, this isn’t the start of a baaa-d joke.

By coaching sheep utilizing photos of those celebrities, researchers from the University of Cambridge found that the animals are capable of acknowledge acquainted faces from 2-D photographs. Given a alternative, the sheep picked the acquainted celeb’s face over an unfamiliar face the vast majority of the time, the researchers report November eight in Royal Society Open Science.

Even when a celeb’s face was barely tilted somewhat than face-on, the sheep nonetheless picked the picture as a rule. That means the sheep weren’t simply memorizing photographs, demonstrating for the primary time that sheep have superior face-recognition capabilities just like these of people and different primates, say neurobiologist Jennifer Morton and her colleagues.

Sheep have been recognized to pick photos of people of their flock, and even acquainted handlers (SN: 10/6/12, p. 20). But it’s been unclear whether or not the talent was actual recognition or easy memorization. Sheep now be a part of different animals, together with horses, canines, rhesus macaques and mockingbirds, which are capable of distinguish between people of different species.

Claim to fame

Over a sequence of 4 coaching periods, the sheep’s capability to decide on a well-recognized face, represented by one of many 4 celebrities, over a totally unfamiliar face improved.

Morton and her colleagues launched eight sheep one-by-one right into a pen outfitted with two laptop screens. A celeb’s face would seem on one display screen, whereas a distinct picture appeared on the opposite. First, the crew familiarized the sheep with the celebrities’ faces by displaying the faces reverse a black display screen or random objects. Picking the celeb earned a sheep a food-pellet reward.

Next, researchers paired a celeb mug, like Gyllenhaal’s now-familiar face, with an unfamiliar particular person. By the tip of this experiment, the sheep selected a well-recognized celeb’s face over a stranger’s face about 79 % of the time on common.

To see if the sheep have been simply memorizing shapes, researchers did the identical check, however with photos through which the celebs’ heads have been tilted proper or left. The sheep didn’t do as nicely however nonetheless handed, recognizing the celebrities about 68 % of the time — a drop in efficiency similar to that seen in people performing the identical job.   

In a remaining check, the sheep had to decide on between an image of one in every of their handlers’ faces and an unfamiliar face. On her first strive, one sheep appeared shocked by the brand new face within the combine. She did a double take of each faces earlier than in the end selecting her handler. Since the handler cares for the sheep each day, the animals have been conversant in her — though they’d by no means seen a 2-D photograph of her face. Recognizing an individual that’s acquainted from Three-D life requires “complex image processing,” the authors say, as a result of the sheep should translate their reminiscence of the particular person to a 2-D image.

Brad Duchaine, a mind scientist at Dartmouth College, doesn’t discover the sheep’s capability stunning. “My guess is that the ability of sheep to recognize human faces is a by-product of selection to discriminate between different sheep faces,” he says. “Either the human face is similar enough to the sheep face that [it] activates the sheep face-processing system, or human-face recognition relies on more general-purpose recognition systems.”

EWE AGAIN Sheep have been educated to acknowledge celeb faces, demonstrating that the animals can acknowledge a well-recognized human face from a 2-D picture.

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