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University of Cambridge scientists train sheep to recognise human faces

Sheep are intelligent enough to recognise humans. Source: Shutterstock.
Sheep are intelligent enough to recognise humans. Source: Shutterstock.com

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have trained sheep to recognise the faces of celebrities. The pioneering research hopes to help our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases.

The sheep were shown photographs of two different people on two computer screens. The two screens each showed either an unknown person or one of four famous people including Emma Watson, Jake Gyllenhaal and Barack Obama.

The animals selected a screen by breaking an infrared beam. If they broke the beam near the flat surface showing the famous person, they were rewarded with food. If they broke the beam with the unknown person, an electric signalling device would make a sound, and they would not receive a reward.

Eventually, the sheep succeeded in selecting the celebrity 80 percent of the time.

The university plans to use this research to study brain disorders such as Huntington’s disease. The disorder affects brain functioning, developing slowly over a long time period. The research points to humans having similar levels of brain functioning within facial recognition to sheep. 

When humans partook in the study, researchers reported similar success rates. However, sheep were less successful when presented with the faces from different angles or directions. Humans were more able to cope with these changes.

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Leader of the study, Professor Jenny Morton, told VOA News: “We’ve shown that sheep have advanced face-recognition abilities, comparable with those of humans and monkeys.”

The findings may open up further ethical debate into the meat industry, as well as pave the way for more research into animals’ intelligence.

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