Sheep Can Recognize Celebrity Faces in Photos

A sheep. Smarter than it looks

A sheep. Smarter than it looks. Wolfgang Kaehler LightRocket via Getty Images

"These data show that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and non-human primates", claims the study, published today in Royal Society Open Science.

At one end of the pen, they would see two photographs displayed on two computer screens and would receive a reward of food for choosing the photograph of the celebrity, by breaking an infrared beam near the screen. One was a celebrity it had seen before, and one was a photo of a non-celebrity who looked similar and had the same gender and ethnicity.

Among the faces they were trained to recognize were Barack Obama and Harry Potter actress Emma Watson.

Tapping on the "correct" portrait would reward the sheep with food while choosing the wrong face would result in no food and a sound being played.

Even when a celeb's face was slightly tilted rather than face-on, the sheep still picked the image more often than not.

The sheep picked the celebrity's face eight times out of 10.

The woolly creatures could reliably pick out their human handlers without any previous photographic training at all, showing they can spot a familiar face.

The sheep still recognized the celebrity portraits, even if posing at an angle, with only a 15 percent drop in accuracy. People recognise familiar faces easily, and can identify unfamiliar faces from repeatedly presented images. "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.

Obviously the study focused on only eight domestic sheep, and it does mention some potential alternative interpretations of the data. Scientists now found that that ability can be applied to photos of famous faces, too, Sky News reported.

"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.

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