Science

Sheep learned to recognize photos of Obama and other celebrities, neuroscientists say

Sheep learned to recognize photos of Obama and other celebrities, neuroscientists say

Morton and a team trained eight sheep to recognise the famous faces from a frontal photo of each of them.

Every time an animal picked the celebrity face instead of a different image on a second screen, it would get a food reward.

Scientists say the study could help advance research of Huntington's disease, which causes humans to lose their ability to recognize faces, Sky News reported. The sheep didn't do as well but still passed, recognizing the celebrities about 68 percent of the time - a drop in performance comparable to that seen in humans performing the same task.

The sheep would nuzzle up close to their chosen screen, where they would trigger an infrared sensor releasing a treat, if they had chosen correctly. (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. During one set of trials, they were made to discern between their handler (whose photo they'd never seen before) and a new face.

Michael Emenalo quits Chelsea in major blow to Roman Abramovich
However, he has often been seen by some as at fault for transfer flops and the increasing amount of young players sent away on loan.

After some initial confusion, the animals picked the handler's picture in 72 percent of cases. In follow-up experiments, the authors of the new study had the sheep once again chose between images of celebrities or strangers. People recognise familiar faces easily, and can identify unfamiliar faces from repeatedly presented images.

It's always been known a flock can become familiar with the visages of their human handlers. "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". This convinced the researchers that sheep had face-recognition abilities similar to ours. "Although I didn't think sheep could recognize emotion, it made me think about face recognition as a complex brain process". "Our study gives us another way to monitor how these abilities change", Morton said.

Morton said that future neurological research, using sheep as model organisms, could build from this study.


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