JAN 03, 2018 6:12 PM PST

Sheep Can Recognize Human Faces, Study Finds

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

After people spend enough time with others, they begin to recognize familiar faces. On the other hand, scientists have always wondered whether certain animals could do the same.

Although this type of research undoubtedly depends on the animal at hand, a study published in the journal Royal Society: Open Science by researchers from Cambridge University reveals that sheep are just one example of animals capable of recognizing familiar human faces.

Sheep can recognize your face if they spend enough time around you.

Image Credit: Pixabay

With a little help from digital photographic portraits and a handful of tasty treats, the researchers trained eight different sheep to recognize photographs of four separate celebrity faces. Among those pictured were Fiona Bruce, Jake Gyllenhaal, Barack Obama and Emma Watson.

Related: Monkeys can recognize human faces in inanimate objects

Any time the sheep selected the correct photograph the researchers rewarded them with one of the tasty treats. If they chose wrong, the sheep wouldn’t get a treat, and an annoying buzzing noise would sound.

Once training was over, the researchers moved forward with testing the animals’ recognition abilities. In these tests, they'd have the sheep pick between a photograph of the celebrity they trained for and a complete stranger. At least eight times out of ten, the sheep chose the right picture.

Further supporting the notion that that sheep recognized these faces rather than relying on dumb luck, the researchers showed the sheep the same faces at different angles. Notably, recognition hovered around 65% accuracy under these angular circumstances.

But tests didn’t stop there – the researchers also wanted to know if the sheep could recognize their handlers from a mere photograph without any prior training. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the animals selected their hander’s photo from another around 70% of the time.

Related: Lab rats capable of using sophisticated tools to solve problems

“Anyone who has spent time working with sheep will know that they are intelligent, individual animals who are able to recognize their handlers,” said study lead author Jenny Morton. “We’ve shown with our study that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys.

“Sheep are long-lived and have brains that are similar in size and complexity to those of some monkeys. That means they can be useful models to help us understand disorders of the brain, such as Huntington’s disease, that develop over a long time and affect cognitive abilities. 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.”

Related: Some birds could be just as smart as apes

With near-average recognition abilities, the study supports the notion that sheep (and perhaps other animals too) can recognize human faces. The results serve as a testament to the idea that animals are smarter than we give them credit for, and further research of this nature could help advance neuroscience research, among other things.

Source: Cambridge University

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JUL 27, 2020
Plants & Animals
Why Mosquitoes Have a Preference for Human Blood
JUL 27, 2020
Why Mosquitoes Have a Preference for Human Blood
There is a huge variety of mosquitoes in the world - around 3,500 species - and only a few seek humans for their blood m ...
SEP 10, 2020
Plants & Animals
Scientists Document Swimming Styles of Sea Butterflies
SEP 10, 2020
Scientists Document Swimming Styles of Sea Butterflies
Snails, marine and terrestrial, are likely primarily imagined to be attached to a substrate. However, under the waves, t ...
SEP 24, 2020
Plants & Animals
High Arctic Polar Bears are Temporarily Benefitting from Climate Change
SEP 24, 2020
High Arctic Polar Bears are Temporarily Benefitting from Climate Change
For the past few decades, polar bears have been harbingers of climate change. However, not every polar bear subpopu ...
NOV 07, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Is Monarch wing size influenced by the environment?
NOV 07, 2020
Is Monarch wing size influenced by the environment?
Monarchs are shifting their migration patterns to live year-round in locations where the plants they need are always ava ...
NOV 24, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Cracking the Code of a Locust Swarm
NOV 24, 2020
Cracking the Code of a Locust Swarm
With a reputation for destruction that goes back to ancient Egypt, locust swarms are once again a major problem for some ...
NOV 30, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Green Genetic Technology Can Help Feed the World
NOV 30, 2020
Green Genetic Technology Can Help Feed the World
In the latter half of the last century, agriculture underwent a technological revolution that enabled farmers to create ...
Loading Comments...