Recent studies conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge show that sheep can detect familiar human faces, along with identifying individuals from their flocks and other species.
The scientists trained the sheep using pictures of Emma Watson, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Baa-rack Obama. Each day, the sheep were led into a pen containing two computer screens. One screen portrayed a familiar face and the other depicted an unfamiliar one. If the sheep selected the familiar face (the correct choice) by pressing the correct screen with their nose, they were rewarded with treats.
With this treat motivation, the sheep succeeded in selecting the celebrity face over the stranger’s face about 80% of the time.
To make sure the sheep weren’t simply memorizing the images, the scientist also conducted an experiment in which the celebrities’ faces were tilted or flipped.
The sheep still succeeded in selecting the correct face 67 percent of the time, showing that the sheep have “advanced face-recognition capabilities.” In fact, humans have had about the same results in this test.
Causes of Results
Brad Duchaine, a neuroscientist, hypothesizes that this is a result of the sheep having had so much experience differentiating between others of their flock. He thinks that perhaps human faces activate the same face processing system in the sheep’s brain as sheep faces do.
Sheep have a very advanced ability to recognize different faces; they are just about as proficient as us humans at this task!
Jenny Morton, lead researcher, states that this research may lead us a step closer to finding a cure for Huntington’s disease; those afflicted have difficulty walking and moving, along with recognizing faces. The researchers plan to later study a flock of Australian sheep that were genetically modified to carry Huntington’s disease. They hope to figure out how to treat these sheep, as this will offer much deep insight into finding a cure for humans.
To watch a video of the sheep completing the facial-recognition tests, navigate to:
Jessica Yatvitskiy ’21
Source: Mariah Quintanilla, “Sheep Recognize Human Faces”, Science News Magazine, 9 Dec., 2017