Sci-tech

New study on sheep may help research on brain disorders

New study on sheep may help research on brain disorders

A University of Cambridge study found that sheep can learn to recognize human faces. The scientists have been rewarded better for measuring the brain functions of sheep.

Recognizing Obama meant the sheep won a snack. Then, the researchers showed the sheep two different face photos and gave it a food reward for choosing the correct face it had learned before.

Morton's team trained eight sheep to recognize the faces of four celebrities: journalist Fiona Bruce, actors Jake Gyllenhal and Emma Watson and former U.S. President Barack Obama, Sky News reported. They were able to identify the faces of celebrities at different angles (although there was a decrease in performance of about 15%), demonstrating that they are not stupid.

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.

Jonathan Peirce studying visual systems at the University of Nottingham in Britain stated that, "I'm sure it will surprise other people, but to me this is all well known". (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.

When the handler's face was shown, sheep picked it seven out of 10 times. "And there is no reason to think that they would recognize other animals but not humans".

"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.

The ability to recognise faces is one of the most important human social skills. The research could even help with research into neurological diseases.

Peirce said it was hard to say whether sheep associate photos of faces with people. During one set of trials, they were made to discern between their handler (whose photo they'd never seen before) and a new face.

Likewise, when the authors of the new study swapped celebrity photographs with those of the sheep's handlers, the farm animals needed no training.


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