This was on par with research in humans - one study in 2000 found that the human ability to recognize unfamiliar faces decreases from 90 percent for frontward faces to about 76 percent when faces are tilted, the authors noted. These faces were put up on screens and the sheep were rewarded with food for picking the photograph of the correct celebrity displayed in a pen.
The study was done by Cambridge University researchers, who said that they were able to train sheep to recognise faces of actors Jake Gyllenhaal and Emma Watson, former US President Barack Obama and BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce. Whenever the sheep correctly chose the option, the testing got popped out with a treat. The sheep were having two options in each step as a photo of celebrity face or another is of something else. 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.
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After some initial confusion, the animals picked the handler's picture in 72 percent of cases. "This current study adds an interesting new ability to the surprising wide repertoire of behaviour of sheep".
Sheep are known for their sociability, but this showed - with some training - the sheep could not only recognize fellow sheep and humans they knew, but process images of faces.
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"Our study gives us another way to monitor how these abilities change, particularly in sheep who carry the gene mutation that causes Huntington's disease", she pointed out. "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". The results were published Wednesday in the Royal Society's Open Science journal as part of research looking into cognitive ability and neurodegenerative disorders, like Huntington's disease, which can impair people's ability to recognize facial emotion.
"Sheep are long-lived and have brains that are similar in size and complexity to those of some monkeys".
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"If this is the case, we can use the test to measure the beneficial effect of new treatments".